Millennial women have had it rough. Over the last few years think-pieces on millennial women have been published at every major news outlet. Some praise the advances of feminism that have allowed western women to make decisions about things like when to have babies (if at all), how much sex they have (and who with), what career to have (if at all), open discussions about contraception and menstrual products (or rejection of them completely), if they want to do sex work (and not be ashamed of it) or getting cosmetic surgery (or age gracefully). But in the same breath the press says that millennial women have destroyed the baby industry, crashed the housing market because of avocado on toast, lowered household income because of their desire to work, glorified sex work, created unrealistic beauty standards for younger women —and also not maintained the beauty standard, which makes them equally very angry.
In Joachim Trier’s sensational The Worst Person in the World, Julie (Renate Reinsve) is grappling with all of these things, and more. Heading towards her 30th birthday, we catch Julie in a sort of quarter-life crisis claiming that she “feels like a spectator” in her own life. With all the essence of Frances Ha‘s “I’m so embarrassed. I’m not a real person yet,” Julie is introduced in a ‘previously on…’ style montage whizzing through her life, loves and career thus far that sets up the episodic structure of Trier’s film: a prologue, 12 titled chapters and an epilogue.
Julie is messy, indecisive and in-between. She’s decided that the medical school she’s been studying at is no longer for her, psychology is actually her chosen path. No wait, now photography. She even dabbles in writing at one point. Julie lives by fleeting decisions and impulse; she moves from partner to partner, job to job, moment to moment. In the beginning of the film we see Julie leave her boyfriend for a provocative comic artist 15 years her senior, Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie), and by Chapter 2 she has a romantic encounter at a party with Eivind (Herbert Nordum), who is also in a relationship, the pair doing everything they can to avoid ‘cheating’ but still experience intimacy.
The following scenes are where Trier really swings at the rom-com genre, hitting every trope and repurposing it for Julie’s world of continued crisis. It’s incredibly sexy, the tension built to immeasurable heights. Camera work from Kasper Tuxen evokes the whimsical feeling of first love with a dash of magical realism.
Julie’s experience with Eivind feels like a memoria to her college days — days of exploration and discovery — where the journey into a Saturday night could have unlimited potential for new experiences. Switch back to her actual relationship with Aksel and a stark dose of reality is ready to strike. What happens when love fizzles? When your life stages are so incompatible and people turn into visions of themselves you never thought possible? Julie struggles between dreams of love-at-first-sight grandeur and the bare bones, brutal realism that comes with being in a long-term relationship and approaching 30.
From musings on motherhood, indigenous rights, climate change, yoga, mensuration, magic mushrooms and cancel culture, Julie is truly a woman of the ages, and Reinsve’s performance captures those nuances flawlessly . Each chapter essentially divulges another facet of the millennial worry about whether or not what she’s doing is ‘right’ as a woman and how Julie yields those feelings into a newfound state of self-awareness. How Trier and longtime co-writer Eskil Vogt have managed to conjure such a contemporary musing on the plight of modern women is truly astonishing. As someone just headed into the ‘wrong’ side of her twenties, it was as if every thought running through my head had been put into a screenplay. I’m sure many other women watching this will find their ruminations deeply relatable.
It’s refreshing that the cinematic canon has caught on that being in your twenties now is not the twenties of the 1960s, 1970s or 1980s — that it isn’t a time of great discovery, financial success or settling down, but a time of complete dread. The Worst Person in the World makes the definite case for thirty being the new twenty, and in fact, contrary to the film’s title, Julie might just be cinema’s new cool girl.
The Worst Person In The World opens in North America on February 11
by Chloë Leeson
Chloë (she/her) is the founder of SQ. She works as a teacher in the GLAM sector and freelances as a costume designer and maker living in the North East of England. She thrives watching 90s Harmony Korine Letterman interviews and bad horror movies. Her favourite films are Into The Wild, Lords of Dogtown, Green Room and Pan’s Labyrinth. Find her on Letterboxd here.
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