At some point in our lives, for most of us anyway, we wonder about what we want to be, what we want to do, what sort of role do we want to have. Some people figure it out. Some people figure it out eventually. Some people find themselves working a job for thirty-odd years and still consider themselves at the stage where they’re wondering what they want to do for the rest of their lives. Not that I’m talking about anyone in particular there, you understand.

And this is an internal conflict that dogs Julie, played in a captivating sort of way by Renate Reinsve, throughout Joachim Trier’s 2021 offering, The Worst Person in the World. Told with a prologue and epilogue bookmarking twelve chapters, she starts her university career wanting to study medicine, switches to psychology, switches again to photography, dumps a boyfriend for a professor, works in a bookstore, meanders through relationships until she meets Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie), a somewhat famous comic book artist, renowned for a series that features a cat with a butthole. Hey, it’s Norwegian, okay?

By this point, Julie is approaching 30, Aksel is in his 40s, and he breaks up with her following their initial tryst, citing the age difference, a conflict in what they want from life, and a concern that they would end up hurting each other, she decides at that moment that she loves him and so they embark on a relationship that will define them.

It’s not exactly treading bold, uncharted territory here, but what makes it shine is Reinsve’s engaging performance — there’s probably a camera pointing at her for 95% of the two-hour runtime — and a sparkling script from Trier and Eskil Vogt, aided in no small measure by the sterling job undertaken by whoever was in charge of the subtitles. So often it seems that some subtitled movies lose something of the nuance of the language it’s translated, but here it felt like every line delivered was captured perfectly.

The story is also careful to avoid many of the tropes that seem to plague romantic comedies. We discover fairly early on that Aksel’s fears were well-founded, particularly around the subject of children, but the couple continues on and it makes perfect sense when they do so. We start to see the relationship develop and change to the point where Aksel chastises Julie’s dad rather brutally in his own home for avoiding his daughter’s birthday and never visiting.

This development, however, serves up probably the only criticism I have of the movie. It’s never particularly clear how quickly time is passing. Initially, it seems to race through the years but then we learn that Julie is still 29, and it’s only when understanding is altered that the film seems to put its foot on the gas. This isn’t helped by the use of chapters and particularly stating upfront how many of them there are. An hour in and only being on Chapter 5 did make me a little uppity in my seat.

It’s a small complaint, though, and more than made up for by the fresh approach and a few inventive setpieces; my favorite being a whistlestop tour of Julie’s female ancestors’ accomplishments by the time they were 30.

Amusing without really forcing many laughs, moving without clawing at the emotions, it makes the viewer appreciate that there is a difference between not wanting children and not wanting children with a particular person, and maybe that person doing the same job for over three decades always knew what they wanted to be when they grew up after all.