Review: ‘The Worst Person in the World’ might be the best movie of the year

Renate Reinsve appears in "The Worst Person in the World"

Do we ever stop coming of age? That’s the question that implicitly sits at the heart of director Joachim Trier’s exceptional romantic dramedy, "The Worst Person in the World" — Norway’s official entry for Best International Feature Film at the Academy Awards and an early contender for best film of the year. 

Julie (Renate Reinsve) is a 20-something who swiftly decides that med school isn’t for her, even if she isn’t entirely sure what comes next. Her new boyfriend Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie) is fifteen years older and struggling to figure out his own next step in life after finding early success as an acclaimed underground comic book artist. 

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Trier has nothing but the deepest empathy for his lovably flawed lead characters, who also include Eivind (Herbert Nordrum), the more lighthearted lad who catches Julie’s eye at a party. Like the best coming-of-age romances, Trier’s funny, wistful film adds epic emotionality to the relatable minutia of everyday life. 

In the film’s most overtly magical moment, the world literally stops as Julie sneaks away for a romantic tryst. In a surreal trip sequence, magic mushrooms unlock the dark corners of Julie’s subconscious.
 

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Renate Reinsve and Anders Danielsen Lie in "The Worst Person in the World"

Yet the most poignant moments in "The Worst Person in the World" are often the most grounded; a flirtatious meet cute, a melancholy sharing of regrets, a fight that melts away into a quiet moment of reconciliation. If we never really come of age perhaps that’s because there are too many complicated layers to life to ever reach anything resembling a full stop – until, of course, we inevitably do. 

Without ever slipping into sentimentalism, "The Worst Person in the World" understands the warts-and-all beauty of what it means to truly live a life to the fullest, stumbling, striving and messing up along the way.

Rated R. 127 minutes. Language: Norwegian. Dir: Joachim Trier. Featuring: Renate Reinsve, Anders Danielsen Lie, Herbert Nordrum. Opens in select theaters Feb. 4. 

This review originally ran as part of our coverage of the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

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About the writer: Caroline Siede is a film and TV critic in Chicago, where the cold never bothers her anyway. A member of the Chicago Film Critics Association, she lovingly dissects the romantic comedy genre one film at a time in her ongoing column When Romance Met Comedy at The A.V. Club. She also co-hosts the movie podcast, Role Calling, and shares her pop culture opinions on Twitter (@carolinesiede).

Feel the love with these romances streaming (for free!) on Tubi

Romeo & Juliet (2013): Filmed live on Broadway in 2013, this production stars Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad as the eponymous star-crossed lovers. And while the production uses the original Shakespearean text, its modern day costuming and staging (Romeo drives in on a motorcycle!) helps make it more accessible for romance lovers everywhere.

Sing Street (2016): John Carney (the force behind the marvelous romance "Once") turns in another gem of a musical in this 2016 coming-of-age story, which boasts a terrific cast and a score that will stick with you — particularly "Drive it Like You Stole it," which is what you might call an immortal bop. Rated PG-13. 106 minutes. Featuring: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Jack Reynor.

The Whole Wide World (1996): Vincent D’Onofrio stars in this based-on-a-true-story romance, in which "a 1930s Texas school teacher [has an] affair with a famous author, as events and clashing hopes drive him into an imaginary world." Also stars Renee Zellweger.

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