Timing can be cruel. Norwegian director Kristoffer Borgli’s second feature, Sick Of Myself, has the misfortune to arrive in the Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard section in the slipstream of Ruben Östlund’s divisive but funny competition title Triangle of Sadness; the latter being a broader, sillier but much more brutal dissection of class and culture. Sick Of Myself also has to compete with the unexpected longevity of fellow countryman Joachim Trier’s hit The Worst Person In The World, which last year went from the Cannes competition all the way to the Oscars.
The net result is that despite another great, gutsy central performance from Ninjababy star Kristine Kujath Thorp, Sick Of Myself won’t get the attention it might have had in previous years, which is a shame since there are some interesting ideas in the mix here and some dark laughs to be had.
Thorp plays Signe, a young woman whose boyfriend Thomas (Eirik Sæther) is a conceptual artist with a sideline in kleptomania (in the film’s somewhat misleading opening scene, we see the pair conspiring to steal a very expensive bottle of wine from a restaurant). Both are struggling, and Signe works in a coffee shop where the mundanity of everyday work is suddenly shattered when a female customer is mauled by a savage dog. Signe comes to her rescue and heads home in a daze, still covered in lashings of the other woman’s blood. It’s subtly expressed, but the attention she receives — from the police, the people she passes, and subsequently the media — plants a seed.
Later, when Thomas has unexpectedly become a rising art star with his weird compositions, some of it made from stolen furniture, Signe attends a fancy dinner in his honor.
Uncomfortable with the fact that Thomas is in the spotlight and no one is listening to her attempts at party talk, Signe affects a nut allergy. The concern she is shown emboldens her to take it further, and while Thomas is trying to make a heartfelt speech she fakes anaphylactic shock and steals his thunder.
This moment is the catalyst for what happens next: after reading about a dodgy Russian mood-altering drug called Lidexor, which is linked to a mysterious flesh-eating skin disease, Signe orders boxes and boxes of the stuff, with full knowledge of the drug’s side-effects.
There’s a really good foundation for jet black satire here, and Thorp excels in the film’s superior first half, popping pills in scenes that show her effortless knack for goofy physical comedy. There’s also a little hint of Fight Club in Signe’s race to the bottom that echoes that film’s gleefully perverse embrace of nihilism, and — this is a stretch, admittedly — maybe even a touch of John Waters’ Desperate Living in Signe’s berserk pride in her willful self-mutilation when she becomes a tabloid star and even fashion model.
But somehow, Sick Of Myself never quite blossoms; Signe and Thomas simply remain locked in a toxic co-dependent relationship that somehow carries on regardless, and Thorp’s expressive face starts to disappear under distracting layers of latex.
There’s fun to be had from Signe’s shameless narcissism, and her deluded fantasy scenes really lift the film when it gets a little stodgy (the best involves an in-jokey cameo from Anders Danielson Lie as a deadpan doctor). It’s not quite enough, though, to justify spending 90 minutes in these people’s company, and Borgli seems to know that, with an ending that appears to wrap things up nicely without actually doing anything of the sort.
There are two very intriguing stories going on here; one is an irreverent skit on society, the media, and the celebrity of victimhood, the other is a tender portrait of a sad, lonely woman who’ll do anything to feel seen. But there’s a yawning gap in the middle — and it’s the sense of what’s missing here that lingers, not what’s there.
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