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‘Sick of Myself’ Review: Norway’s Real Worst Person in the World Will Ruin Your Life with a Smile

Cannes: More acerbic and uncomfortable than Joachim Trier's rom-com, Kristoffer Borgli’s portrait of nihilism walks an uneasier tightrope between satire and cruelty.

Sick of Myself

“Sick of Myself”

Oslo Films

When Renate Reinsve’s wandering heroine Julie from “The Worst Person in the World” worried about just how detestable she might become, she was probably thinking about someone like Signe (Kristine Kujath Thorp) in “Sick of Myself.” Another Oslo Pictures feature, though more acerbic and uncomfortable than Joachim Trier’s beloved romantic comedy, Kristoffer Borgli’s scathing portrait of nihilistic narcissism taps into similar deadpan humor but walks a much more precarious tightrope between uncomfortable satire and plain cruelty.

We begin with a shared focus on Signe and her artist boyfriend Thomas (Eirik Sæther), two equally grating people obsessed with doing bad things (sometimes to make other people feel bad, but also just to feel literally anything themselves) because they don’t know how to do anything else. It might be how they fell in love but it’ll also be how they grow to despise one another, their shared vices quickly turning into a competition: When two people are dying for attention in this way, the only possible outcome is total annihilation.

But there’s a shift. Thomas’ career as an avant-garde kleptomaniac artist skyrockets, and Signe is coughing up dust. Borgli takes the film in a darker direction than the vignettes where these big kids just keep embarrassing themselves (she pretends to have a severe nut allergy, while he steals, uh, chairs). Signe decides the only way to be noticed will be to take the very necessary and very illegal drugs that will give her an extremely rare and serious skin disease. Because does pain or pleasure really exist if you can’t see it?

Many, many pills later, the rash begins to spread. Finally, everyone around Signe begins to notice her plight (and Kujath Thorp maintains an awe-inspiring level of deluded stubbornness throughout) and, for a minute, she’s won. But then what? The lies pile up, and her seesawing existence between self-pity and a search for something always more painful becomes increasingly corrosive. It’s beyond satire and extremely close to body horror, as the disease mutates and the genre of “Sick of Myself” swells until it explodes, leaving a bloody mess in its midst.

But however sticky “Sick of Myself” gets, there’s rarely much doubt about how funny it is. Visual gags sing as much as caustic scripting, as Signe throws her laptop out the window for no real reason before later being told by Anders Danielsen Lie (in the greatest cameo of the doctor-turned-actor’s career) that she has such a bad personality that a police car is waiting outside to execute her.

Death rarely fades from view in Borgli’s increasingly bleak comedy, which does somewhat of a disservice to the narrative trajectory — not because it flirts with oblivion but because its path is so stratospheric and dogged in the direction it’s going that it can be pretty hard to hold on for your life and not get left behind. And that’s what happens to Thomas: a strange kind of Instagram boyfriend who, instead of succumbing to his girlfriend’s vices, simply, well, does better and sees the light and fades from view. It’s a nice thought for this man but a shame for what could have been a despicable modern-day “Bonnie and Clyde”, instead locking you in a room with, as Julie knew from the start, the worst young woman you will ever meet.

Signe’s delusion takes us deep into her mind as her existence balances between actions so reprehensible she must be making them up and daydreams so wild it’s a real shame they’re actually untrue. It’s subtle enough to avoid cartoonish trappings where fantasies pop up and burst like animated speech bubbles, but loses focus in the name of some kind of discretion. It doesn’t matter, fundamentally, as Signe’s self-destructive path is doomed whatever she does, but Borgli loses a few of his own jokes (a big-hearted drug dealer who realizes he’s been caught by Signe when recalling she claimed she was missing a toe, a standout character) in the name of his ticking time bomb of a lead.

Of course, you know from the very start we will be left laughing in the rubble once Signe has blown this whole thing up, but such a conclusion brings “Sick of Myself” to an abrupt ending that loses the wit that fueled so much of the story to this point. It’s a fair and sad ending — of course, an obsession with being noticed to the point of very seriously damaging yourself in every possible way ends with nobody really caring less — but a great risk in terms of the film’s staying power and fundamental belief system.

She’s the worst person in the world but we’re not laughing at her anymore, as nobody else is around to back us up. Her bit has turned into a horrifying affliction you wouldn’t wish on David Cronenberg’s worst enemy, and she’s still trying to break her pained smile through it. What was facetious, deliberately so, is just a bit mean. Borgli has said that “Sick of Myself” is somewhat driven by a Tom Waits line in which the indomitable musician said, “I like beautiful melodies telling me terrible things.” By the end of the film, it feels like the beauty has been overemphasized without quite understanding how terrible everything else has made you feel. Smile at your own risk as the credits roll, or maybe choose when to open the parachute on the way there to save yourself first.

Grade: B-

“Sick of Myself” premiered in Un Certain Regard at Cannes. It is currently seeking distribution.

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