Julie (Reinsve, who won Best Actress at Cannes last year for her portrayal of this character) is a Norwegian woman in her early 30s. She’s at the heart of this coming-of-age film, a type of film usually attached to teenagers and other children on the verge of understanding adults. Julie, of course, is not a child, nor is she the worst person in the world (a phrase that hints at the film’s wry humor), but she is a young person looking for the key that will unlock the entrance to his adult life. In the opening scenes of the film, we observe that Julie changes her professional career with the same frequency as she changes her hair color. Eventually, she takes a temporary job at a bookstore, which ironically becomes one of the constants in her life. Julie is one of those people for whom life happens while she is busy making other plans.
Other areas of wavering emotions include Julie’s romantic desires, her feelings about motherhood, and her relationship with her birth family. At the start of the film, she moves in with Aksel (Danielsen Lie, who also had lead roles in the other two films considered part of Trier’s Oslo trilogy: Oslo, August 31 and Reprise). Aksel is an esteemed underground cartoonist who is several years older than her. Although he is deeply in love with her, he immediately warns Julie that because they are at different stages in their lives, this reality is bound to become a source of friction later in their relationship. Due to her youthful inexperience, Julie brushes off the threat, but, of course, she eventually leaves Aksel for barista Eivind (Nordrum), who, like Julie, does not want children. However, if this is where we expect Julie’s journey through life to end, we would be wrong.
Structured in 12 chapters accompanied by a prologue and an epilogue, The worst person in the world was written especially for Reinsve by writer/director Joachim Trier (along with his longtime collaborator and co-writer Eskil Vogt). Julie’s concern is rooted in a self-confidence that Reinsve transmits with simplicity and brilliance. Several great sets (a dance scene, a magic mushroom episode, a flirtation within social bounds with a stranger at a party she throws, and an incredible Run Lola Run– reminiscent sequence in which Julie runs through the city while everyone around her stays still in place) help define the character. An unexpected and touching ending in the third act fosters Julie’s emotional growth and stifles her gyroscopic sense of direction.
The worst person in the world is nominated for Oscars for Best International Feature Film and Best Original Screenplay, though the exclusion of Renate Reinsve as a Best Actress nominee is a glaring oversight. Like Julie, however, this film doesn’t depend on outside validation to prove its worth. In the end, we learn enough about Julie to see that she looks a lot like us, but never enough to be fully known. Life will always be a ceaseless process of becoming.