Rom-Com ‘The Worst Person in the World’ is a Smorgasbord of Eclectic Songs
The year 2021 saw the release of Joachim Trier’s wildly alternative rom-com The Worst Person In The World, or Verdens Verste Menneske in the original Norwegian.
Julie, portrayed formidably by the award-winning Renate Reinsve, is a headstrong, intelligent and emotional character, with an array of painfully relatable flaws. She navigates through the complications of trying to find someone when she hasn’t yet found herself.
Julie’s world is expressive and wonderfully ambiguous, and it is Ola Flottum’s soundtrack that gives viewers clues to her state of mind.
The songs range from classical jazz to contemporary electro pop-rock, working together to add another dimension to the story. At times, it’s a tough watch, as our well-rounded characters must find an end, whether that’s a happy one or not.
I’ll try not to include spoilers, but if you can, give the film a watch before reading this soundtrack review.
WHO IS JULIE?
We meet Julie on a balcony at a party overlooking Oslo. As she smokes and texts with a faraway look in her eyes, the 1970s “I Love Music” is playing inside – a jazz piano piece by Ahmad Jamal.
Whether it’s the stereotyped snobbery of jazz, or the mystery and complicated air of Jamal’s work, we are plunged into a world of isolation and estrangement.
The next section, “Prologue”, is underscored by a few songs in quick succession starting with “Poly” by Daphni – an electronic piece that together with the wry narration, introduces Julie’s spirited character.
We watch her jump from career to career to the sound of the distorted synths, still unsure of who she is and where she wants to be.
Then Cobra Man’s “Bad Feeling” comes in; the galvanising, kitsch, soft rock record accompanying Julie on yet another career quest.
Finally, she meets her future boyfriend, Aksel, played by Anders Danielsen Lie. They talk and discover their chemistry to the tune of Christopher Cross’s “Ride Like The Wind”.
Already we’ve had a handful of songs, that help establish Julie’s restlessness, and unsettled but audacious approach to life. It’s a killer of a prologue.
JULIE’S CHAPTER WITH AKSEL
Trier often starts a scene mid-action, so we’re immediately curious as to what, who and where we are.
The new couple are at a friend’s home in the countryside, dancing in the living room to Julie’s choice of music, which happens to be the classic “1 Thing” by Amerie.
It’s not given much of a chance before the older couples swap it for “Bra” by Cymande; a subtle demonstration of Aksel and Julie’s age difference in relation to the generational gap in music taste.
The light fitting above looms over them and soon a guest’s head is bumped by a rogue dance move from her husband. It’s an awkward moment, the light-hearted atmosphere giving way to the tensions that have built up between Aksel and Julie during the vacation.
Various reconciles are made to the sound of Todd Rundgren’s “Healing Pt 1”, a beautifully human and sensitive piece.
The soundtrack is masterfully designed, and chooses silence to highlight seminal moments. Julie is back at the place where we first met her, looking over the city and her future.
She finds herself upset, unsure exactly why, then “Wersailles (Planeur)” by Chassol comes in. The emotive song centring around definite chords, perfectly underscores her melancholia.
She leaves Aksel’s party and gate crashes a wedding reception that spills out onto the street. She’s beckoned in by Umphrey’s McGee’s “Booth Love”, and there begins an elaborate courting dance with one of the guests, Eivind, played by Herbert Nordrum.
It’s an unbelievably sexy scene, as we watch them go as far as they can “without cheating” on their respective partners.
The electro-pop party music adds to the sense of naivety; “Stay With Me” by Glamour Hammer pounding on in the background as they play their games.
They go their separate ways… for now.
Julie’s 30th birthday is lightly underscored by “Pieces Froides: No 2 Trois Danses De Travers” by Erik Satie and Klara Kormendi.
The adventurous piano alternates from major to minor, its frenetic but elegant energy underlining Julie’s anxiety of aging, as the narrator recaps the bleak biographies of Julie’s female predecessors.
CHOOSING ANOTHER PATH
Then Julie finally makes a decision and switches on a light that in turn pauses the world. She runs past frozen people towards Eivind with Ravel’s “Ma Mère L'Oye 4” playing in the background.
The joy in the music and the unbroken smile on her lips embodies the feeling of being so overwhelmed by love that you exist solely for the other person. It’s not an overpoweringly uplifting track; the wandering wind instruments and gentle strings soothe the melody and bring the characters down to Earth and into each other’s arms.
On another side of the love triangle, Eivind’s soon-to-be ex-girlfriend discovers that her family is indigenous and becomes obsessed with her heritage.
“Celestial Wine” from Amazon Ensemble plays as she taps away online, researching her roots while Eivind’s newfound ‘western guilt’ causes a rift in their relationship.
He soon starts to feel like “the worst person in the world”, as he looks back on the unfettered Julie, dancing to “Feel The Love” by Prins Thomas.
‘I Said Goodbye To Me” by Harry Nislson marks the beginning of Julie and Eivind’s chapter, but the pointed lyrics seem to signify the end of Aksel’s involvement in her life, rather than the beginning of something new.
The next few songs are youthful and energetic, much like Eivind. They trip on mushrooms with their arty friends to “Maybe In The Summer” by Sassy 009 and “Springtime” by Le SuperHomard. |
Maybe this partnership will support Julie’s zestful nature as well as her immaturity and unwillingness to take responsibility for her life.
THERE IS MORE TO LIFE THAN JULIE
“Water, Voices & Snow” by Chassol marks the changing seasons.
Having long since broken up with Aksel, Julie receives the news of his terminal illness. From this point, the soundtrack becomes stiller and quieter, reflecting the vast emptiness of losing a loved one.
“Solêr” by Otto A Totland guides us through the last half hour of the film.
This empathetic composition bleeds majestically from chord to chord, sustaining a minimalistic and mediative approach to the classical piano.
However, Aksel’s rebellious nature soon punctures the peace when Julie finds him in his hospital bed, air drumming to “Back To Dungaree High” by Turbonegro.
He taps his converse and mouths along “it’s just a way to stay alive, boy” to the cathartic punk rock track.
In the last chapter, Julie has finally found a job as a photographer, taking stills of a young actress on set who’s just been directed to “be sadder”. She cries during Julie’s photograph, and not for the scene where it was required, the irony being that real life is sadder than anything that’s ever been written.
“I Will Take You There” from Harry Nilsson plays; a warm, contemplative and conclusive song.
The final piece is Art Garfunkel’s cover of “Waters Of March”, its whimsical nature and simple lyrics literally telling us that ‘it’s the end of the road’.
Julie might not have found someone yet, but in her search, she’s learnt to take control and to stop “playing a supporting role in (her) own life”.
Julie is selfish, cruel, narcissisitc, but is she really the worst person in the world? Or is it all of us, subsequentially making nobody the worst person in the world. It’s a beautiful paradox to end a beautiful film that has a compassionate, and most importantly, groovy soundtrack.
For more articles on film scores:
- Scintillating Romantic Film Scores to Seduce You This Valentine’s Day
- Dissecting Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ Chilling Score for ‘Bones And All’
- The Maestro: Paying Respect to the Scores of Ennio Morricone
- Stranger Things Film Scores
All Images: Verdens Verste Menneske, © Oslo Pictures
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Writer | Tallulah Boote Bond
Tallulah is a London-based music journalist, actor and playwright who has written for The Line of Best Fit, Last Bus Magazine and Moonhood Magazine. She has a feature film in development and was upset when she learnt that it wasn’t her job to choose music for her scripts.