The Rom-Com Is Over — Welcome to the Age of the Romantic Dramedy
If you ask me what my favorite movie is, I will 1) Tell you that's a rude question, and 2) Explain that if I had to choose, it would be a three-way tie between Moonstruck, Say Anything, and Dirty Dancing (no, I have not updated this answer since 1989). As this response may imply, I love a good rom-com — but not just any rom-com (I'm lying, any rom-com). I prefer my romantic comedy with a side of cold, hard, bracing reality. Give me happily ever after, but also give me a cynical widow and a bread slicer-induced tragedy; give me Peter Gabriel and paternal embezzlement; give me adultery and class conflict at a Catskills resort. Given these tastes, I knew Norway's off-beat romantic dramedy, The Worst Person in the World, would be exactly my brand of movie.
The final installment of Joachim Trier's Oslo trilogy follows Julie (Renate Reinsve) through her 20s and 30s as she commits all manner of millennial sins (from emotional affairs to the most egregious of shrooms party fouls). And while romantic relationships pull much of the film's focus, Julie's relationship with herself ultimately drives the narrative through its sprawling 14-part trajectory — which is broken into a prologue, 12 chapters, and an epilogue.
If you're hoping this film ends with a flashmob pirouetting to "Yellow," just watch Netflix instead. Worst Person in the World is stunning and inventive and a bunch of other overused adjectives, but a great deal of its charm relies on the fact that Julie's life is a lot like most people's: it's surprising and confusing and ironic and devastating (and a bunch of other overused adjectives).
The definition of "rom-com" seems to be shifting, and that's a good thing. While I will never say no to Vanessa Hudgens in triplicate or Jennifer Lopez in … anything, there is a certain strangeness to watching a world so seemingly simple and disparate from our own. I don't know if you've noticed, but things are bleak out there, and I'm not suggesting that we restrict our entertainment to white-knuckling through encore viewings of Uncut Gems, but ignoring the circumstances of our unique reality can almost feel more jarring than actually living through them.
Perhaps what the modern rom-com really needs is rebranding. The term "rom-dram" is dry heave-inducing (must we make every descriptor cutesy?), so let's just say that the romantic dramedy has superseded the romantic comedy. My rom-com trifecta was ahead of its time. What we need isn't grand gestures and sassy best friends, it's low-grade mental illness and stakes.
Worst Person in the World straddles the line between present-day angst and escapism well. Though it was filmed in the fall of 2020, the pandemic only plays into one part of the segmented narrative — we're not suffocated by apocalyptic heft, but we're also not lulled into a fluffy false calm. Julie's journey gives us balance, a collection of meet-cutes and misfires in equal measure.
And though being a millennial in Norway comes with different obstacles than being a millennial in America, there's a refreshing attitude toward Julie's exploration of adulthood (no matter how aimless). She's in her 30s and working as a sales clerk at a bookstore — and, in a welcome shift from the norm, this isn't a plot-defining point of shame. Though she has aspirations that extend beyond the shop, Julie isn't defined by her career or the idea that she should be somewhere other than where she is at any given moment.
The true magic of Worst Person in the World is that despite the sincerity in its portrayal of early adulthood, it's still delightful to watch. After 127 minutes of unexpected detours, you walk away feeling not deflated by the unpredictability of life, but hopeful. If only we could find a way to feel that way offscreen …
The Worst Person in The World opens in L.A. and N.Y.C. Feb. 4 and expands nationwide Feb. 11.