Deborah Ross

You will feel nothing: The Worst Person in the World reviewed

This film feels like something Greta Gerwig has done a hundred times even if she probably hasn’t

You will feel nothing: The Worst Person in the World reviewed
Ravishing throughout: Renate Reinsve as Julie
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The Worst Person in the World

15, Key Cities

The Worst Person in the World is a Norwegian film that has made a big splash. To date, its star (Renate Reinsve) has won Best Actress at Cannes and it has been nominated for two Oscars (Best Original Screenplay and Best International Feature Film). It has also attracted rave reviews. I can now only conclude: I must be the Hardest to Please Person in the World as I can’t fathom what all the fuss is about. It’s not atrocious. It’s not Batman. But it’s nothing special. And until I read that it is a ‘romantic comedy’ I hadn’t realised it was a comedy at all. Perhaps I am also afflicted with the Worst Sense of Humour in the World?

This is from writer-director Joachim Trier, who co-authored the screenplay with his regular collaborator Eskil Vogt. The narrative is structured like a book as it’s divided into 12 chapters, with a prologue and epilogue, and it plays episodically. The main character is Julie (Reinsve) who, as the prologue speedily informs us with a series of quick cuts, was a medical student, then a psychology student, but didn’t stick with either. She is now a photographer and about to turn 30. Joanna Hogg’s main character in The Souvenir was called Julie too, as it happens, and this is yet another young-woman-needs-to-find-herself-and-her-voice film. It feels familiar – like something Greta Gerwig has done a hundred times even if she probably hasn’t.

On to the men in Julie’s life. We see her dump one boyfriend, then meet another, Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie), a graphic artist a decade her senior, and she moves in with him. I wish I could say there isn’t a montage of them falling in love but there is. She takes a job in a bookstore and now plans to become a writer. I imagine we are meant to relate to her indecisiveness and not dismiss her as capricious. She then meets another fella, Elvind (Herbert Nordrum), but they opt not to cheat because cheating makes you ‘the worst person in the world’. But there is chemistry, and it’s strong. Can they resist?

The ‘messy young woman’ trope has become, I think, rather overdone. It’s everywhere you look. (On TV it’s Fleabag, Starstruck, Alma’s Not Normal…). It’s got to the point where a film about a woman who, say, sticks to a profession, fills in her tax return on time, has developed some certitudes about life might be the more interesting, more original option. This isn’t to say, however, that there aren’t some excellent scenes. A scene with Julie’s father tells us all we need to know about him and his narcissistic neglect. A scene where the world stops, literally, properly conveys what it’s like to not be able to get someone out of your thoughts. But I can’t recall any ‘comedy’. One time, at a party, where all the women are talking about their children she pretends she’s a doctor and says new research shows that if you cuddle your kids too much they’ll become drug addicts. I just assumed she was being mean.

Reinsve is ravishing throughout, as is her always-perfect hair, and the camera adores her. But she’s actually the most underwritten character. She has less to say than any of the men and, aside from one incident – a magic mushroom trip – her interior life was as much a mystery to me by the epilogue as it was in the prologue. And why doesn’t she have any friends? Should that have been explored? Is this an actual young woman or the writers’ idea of a young woman? Meanwhile, the conclusion, as far as I understood it, doesn’t say anything Virginia Woolf didn’t say about having a room of your own. The two hours go by pleasantly enough but the bottom line is: I felt nothing and didn’t care. Maybe I am also the Hardest Hearted Person in the World.