Norwegian director Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World follows the beats of the romantic comedy, but only much better. In Trier’s Oscar-nominated film, written along with frequent collaborator Eskil Vogt, there is romance, sex, gentle humour, self-doubt, the burdens of adulthood and differing expectations from men and women – all delivered with deceptive ease and not a trace of heavy-handedness.

The Worst Person in the World is finally available on MUBI after being premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2021, where lead performer Renate Reinsve won the Best Actress award. Reinsve marvellously plays Julie, a 30-year-old Oslo resident who is unable to commit to career, human or, for that matter, any one idea.

After jumping from this to that, Julie finally seems to settle into a rhythm with the comic book writer Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie). The age gap between them – 15 years – and Aksel’s desire to have children makes Julie restless once again. That and a chance encounter with the barista Elvind (Herbert Nordrum).

The layered screenplay skillfully foregrounds the anxieties of 30-year-old Julie and her generation – the fear of the permanency that comes with parenthood and marriage, the reminder that youth is fleeting, the need to live in the moment and want that moment to last forever. In the generational gap between Julie and Aksel lies different ways of reacting to the world. If Aksel is from an age of sureties, Julie is from a time characterised by fragmentation and instability – all of which affect their relationship.

The film is divided into 12 chapters of varying length. Joachim Trier feeds off the excellent chemistry between his actors to allow some sequences roll out for longer than the others. Courtship, heartbreak, flare-ups and reconciliations are observed with a non-judgemental eye.

The unobtrusive and fluid camerawork is especially powerful in the two-hander scenes. Julie’s first meeting with Elvind is immensely sexy without trying to be. Her showdown with Aksel is poignant even as it confirms her reasons for wanting to leave him.

MeToo, the movement demanding justice for survivors of sexual assault and abuse and public accountability for noxious behaviour, briefly rears its head. Julie sometimes comes off as a more pleasant and pleasing version of her confessional sisters from England and America. But Trier leaves open the question of why Julie, despite being a high achiever in college, decides to wholeheartedly embrace flakiness.

At least in this aspect, the film is stubbornly conventional. You need a less flaky woman, Julie tells Aksel. I like you because you are flaky, he tells her. What would have been a light bulb moment in a more overtly feminist narrative slips by in a film determined to avoid confrontation at all costs.

Julie’s delayed coming of age saga is filled with mild regret, minor epiphanies and relatable observations of human foibles. The loudest and most emphatic element of the film is actually its title.

The Worst Person in The World (2021).