The Worst Person In the World (Thankfully) Untangles The Manic Pixie Dream Girl

The 2021 release The Worst Person In The World from Joachim Trier doesn’t even hint at trying to fit any prescribed genre or sub genre boxes and, along with its wide spectrum of emotional complexity, ends up being one of the more illuminating and hilariously affecting movies in the last few years. Trier’s following of Julie (Renate Reinsve) and her fleeting nature in every aspect of her life shines a bold light on the near impossible nature of love in any way that it has been idealized in any sort of mainstream sense. In a more conventional rom com, Julie might be a foil for the actual love interest because of her unpredictable, flighty, sometimes self-destructive patterns or simply folded into the so-called “manic pixie dream girl” narrative. The Worst Person in the World does more than just fully realize her as a person, but give voice to what has unfortunately become an often infantilizing and reductive stereotype.

Rather than experiencing a character like Julie through the lens of some emotionally immature, but charming enough male protagonist, we, instead, go on her journey through her wavering whims in a quixotic quest to find herself and happiness. No matter how many times she switches up her career or her lovers or her motivations, the movie sticks with Julie, not blaming her for any of her decisions, but merely shows it all to understand (and maybe have some empathy).

It’s too easy to think of someone as the title of this movie and write them off as this towering ex in one’s life for the rest of time. The Worst Person in the World subsequently presents every single character with all their virtues and flaws, hellbent on showing just how complicated love can truly be. Trier dissects the finer points of how everyone in a relationship is involved in its sunrise as much as they are in its sunset. In almost one stroke in the “frozen-in-time” scene(s) when Julie does her version of “running to the airport for love”, you can see how beautiful and cruel love can be at the same time (as well as how absurdly funny the contradiction is).  There are numerous dramas that attempt this (recently Marriage Story, Scenes from a Marriage come to mind), but almost the entire sub-genre of romantic comedy wheels and deals in idealism and desperately avoids how impossible love can actually feel. Lovers and exes all are human and have their pros and cons and The Worst Person in the World shows them as valid whether it be Julie, whomever she’s dating, whomever those people were dating, etc.

Though this clearly isn’t an escapist fantasy in the order of the upcoming I Want You Back or Marry Me, Trier shows off so many tiny moments being smitten with or falling for someone that still make this film so romantic and worthy of a deep laugh from your soul. The genre trappings of sweet embraces and staring into the sunset are very much here in The Worst Person in the World, but just more thoroughly examined. 500 Days of Summer brought a certain level of that to the forefront, but also contributed to the manic pixie dream girl narrative. Trier goes further in that quest for a presentation of love in real life and results in a much more affecting film that ought to be talked about for years to come.

If you’re looking for an answer to how to know how you’re in love, this movie has no answers, but has a damn good time making you laugh at why you’re so obsessed with that question and living your life in reenactments of fiction.

The Worst Person in the World is in theaters in the U.S. now in limited release. Watch the trailer here