I’m fortunate to live just a few minutes from the Spectrum 8 Theaters, where independent and foreign films are still shown. And now that I’m going to theaters again, I had a chance to see The Worst Person in the World, a subtitled film from Norway that takes place in Oslo. Simply seeing another culture with its nuances and new faces depicted is refreshing for me.
I’d classify the film as a melancholic dramedy—part drama, part comedy— although pigeonholing it into a genre doesn’t do the film justice.
The main character, Julie, played by Renate Reinsve, who you’ve never heard of because this is a Norwegian film, is a woman in her late twenties navigating the turbulent waters of her love life and struggling to find a career path. In other words, she’s trying to figure out her life. I consider that fertile territory for storytelling, although there’s nothing surprising or even original about the premise or the plot. Instead, the film relies on deep characterization and compelling, dialog-rich scenes to carry the load. It fully succeeds.
Julie goes from attending medical school, to the study of psychology, to deciding she was a photographer, to taking a job in a bookstore and hooking up and moving in with Askel, played by Anders Danielsen, a guy in his forties who’s a successful graphic novelist. All of this happens in the first fifteen minutes.
Several of the extended conversations between Julie and Askel as they explore their relationship and share their dreams are some of the most authentic dialog sequences I’ve watched, the kind of extended talky scenes you don’t get in American movies. Alas, their love affair is doomed, as Askel predicted it would be due to their age gap and their different stages in life. It’s Askel cast aside as Julie gets involved with a younger barista, Eivind, who she meets during a moment of personal crisis. Eivind scores off the charts on the sexy and nice-guy scale, but doesn’t offer the intellectual depth of Askel.
Sadly, most of you won’t see the movie, so I’m going to touch on a few spoilers. After Julie leaves Askel in a wrenching scene and moves in with Eivind, she discovers that great sex is great but it isn’t the panacea for all that ails you. Some months later she finds out that Askel is dying. She visits him in the hospital and Danielson, as Askel, puts on an incredible performance as he confesses his regrets over Julie, his career as a writer, and his fear of dying. The guy was basically channeling my inner self.
At the same time, Julie finds out she’s pregnant and doesn’t know what to do about the pregnancy or her relationship with Eivind. A coincidence near the climactic moment that lets Julie off the hook and an ending too tidy and Hollywoodish for my taste slightly tarnish for me what was otherwise a film I loved and was lucky to see.