Neither funny nor clever, Sick of Myself is effectively a gross-out freak show

An already unhealthy, competitive relationship takes a brutal turn in Sick of Myself as its narcissistic protagonist subjects herself to worse and worse ordeals for attention and sympathy. It’s desperate to outdo other films in terms of sheer nastiness, writes Lillian Crawford, yet fails to realise that it is neither funny nor clever.

In 2021 a Norwegian film called The Worst Person in the World premiered in competition at the Cannes Film Festival. Renate Reinsve won Best Actress for her performance as Julie in the film, and it went on to receive nominations at the 94th Academy Awards for Best International Feature Film and Best Original Screenplay. It had huge success, rapidly increasing the profile of its director Joachim Trier.

In 2022 a Norwegian film called Sick of Myself premiered in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival. The film, directed by Kristoffer Borgli, has at every turn in its release been compared to The Worst Person in the World, thanks to its Oslo setting and some shared production credits. But there’s something more wryly amusing about the proximity of these two films, and it really comes down to the fact that Trier’s film is a masterpiece, and Borgli’s is not.

Signe (Kristine Kujath Thorp) starts off fawning for attention from her boyfriend Thomas (Eirik Sæther), an artist whose career is starting to take off, much to her chagrin. Her compulsive lies escalate to the point of convincing others that she has increasingly severe medical ailments, from a missing toe to a deadly nut allergy. Then she stumbles upon an article about a Russian anti-anxiety medicine called Lidexol which has horrifying dermatological side effects and acquires some through her drug dealer.

It is difficult to watch someone this disgustingly amoral. Of course, it can be interesting to see ‘unlikeable women’ in films, but there’s something amiss in Sick of Myself. It starts off shocking, with Signe entangled in an incident involving a woman being bitten by a dog and covering her with blood, relishing the attention it brings her. Then it becomes downright farcical, using her facial scarring and hair loss to attract news attention and launch a career as a model. There is no arc for this character, just an unthinkingly straight downward line.

Sick of Myself is effectively the sort of teenage-boy gross-out ‘satire’ that Julie’s boyfriend Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie) turns into comics in The Worst Person in the World. It is about an utterly contemptible individual, a narcissistic attention-seeker with absolutely no redeeming qualities. She is the butt of the film’s joke, its only punching bag, upon whose interminable spiral our pleasures of spectatorship rest. Where the title of Trier’s film is an ironic self-effacing statement, here the nastiness of Signe is taken to such an extreme that it pushes the limits of plausibility.

Of course, Borgli finds this all very funny. But the blackness of the humour renders it unintelligent, as base and shallow as the vomit-splattered comedies of Ruben Östlund. Indeed, Sick of Myself feels like recent Scandinavian festival darlings processed through an Instagram filter, clawing like Signe herself for a scrap of the acclaim those other films have received. It is a film so desperate to outdo those other films in terms of sheer nastiness, yet fails to realise that it is neither funny nor clever.

There are gestures towards some interesting reason behind Signe’s behaviour. When she is fucked by Thomas after being discharged from hospital, still bandaged, they fantasise about Signe’s funeral filled with hundreds of mourners, his thrusts mirroring the toll of church bells. Borgli comes close to interrogating Signe’s psyche here, but then pushes her back with a look of disgust to mock her again.

Sick of Myself is effectively a freak show, bordering on misogynistic, and certainly ableist—an extended farcical sequence involving a blind PA struggling to get a glass of water is particularly distasteful. Where at the end of The Worst Person in the World one is left with a sense of maturation, Sick of Myself can still be seen playing in the dirt.