Sick of Myself (2022)
Written & Directed by Kristoffer Borgli
Having a positive, productive relationship in the current modern context seems challenging. I got married in 2011 and, thankfully, since then, haven’t had to dip my toe back in the dating pool. I am lucky that I have an incredibly supportive partner, and we have just grown closer as the years pass by. For some couples, the pandemic was a moment where the relationship collapsed; for us, we were strengthened. I don’t think this is because we are exceptional in any way. We actively listen to the other person and absorb what they say. We still have arguments, though we don’t let them go beyond the moment they happen. This is a partnership where everyone has to come to the table with a win-win mindset. Anything else is just going to lead to dysfunction.
Sick of Myself opens on Signe (Kristine Kujath Thorp) celebrating her birthday with her boyfriend Thomas (Eirik Sæther). Thomas has ordered an obscenely expensive bottle of wine. He expresses reticence about the cost but tells the waiter it is his woman’s special day, so it is worth it. But this is not her birthday, as we quickly discover. Signe excuses herself from the table at Thomas’ behest to fake taking a phone call. Instead, she wanders outside, down the street, around the corner, and then waits. Moments later, Thomas comes hurtling down the road, the waiter shouting & giving chase. Thomas’s plan was to steal the wine, but Signe’s hesitancy in playing along undermined it.
We quickly learn that Signe and Thomas’s entire relationship is predicated on competitiveness which escalates with each action taken. Their lives are mundane: she works at a cafe as a waitress. Thomas aspires to be an artist, with his technique being theft, a sort of kleptomaniac performance art. Later at a party, Signe aggressively steals the spotlight from Thomas as he tries to wow the other guests with his wine bottle heist. There’s a constant discontent in Signe, unable to see herself as more of the focus than Thomas for more than a minute or two. Then a chance encounter at work opens up a door of dark possibilities.
A dog attack occurs outside the cafe, and Signe helps the victim without much thought. After the paramedics arrive and treat the victim, Signe heads home in a daze, her work shirt covered in someone else’s blood. Our protagonist has noted something that will shape her perspective going forward. That bleeding woman on the floor of her cafe received so much sympathy & attention from complete strangers. What a genuinely enticing prospect for someone like Signe, yet how can she become a victim and not get caught “faking it.” Well, that means she has to actually harm herself.
A story on the internet about Russian women contracting a horrific skin disease after ingesting black market anxiety medication is just the trick. Signe convinces her dealer to see if he can import some of this, obscuring her real reason and the terrible side effects. Unfortunately, once the pills arrive, she begins consuming them in much higher doses than recommended, and very shortly, the damage is done. She has some nasty patches of irritated skin developing, and she starts bleeding randomly, and her face begins melting. It’s certainly not a pretty sight but juxtaposed with the razor-sharp comedy, it is darkly hilarious, sitting somewhere between Cronenberg & John Waters.
Writer-director Kristoffer Borgli has said the impetus for the film came after he saw so much performative victimhood presenting itself on social media. He would notice that many of these people could angle their attention toward a momentary celebrity. It’s a phenomenon I’m sure you’ve seen, often very privileged people posing themselves in a way meant to hide those legs up they have and instead claim they have been shafted by society. They see genuine victims of capitalism and this meat grinder machine and don’t like the idea they aren’t receiving that same attention. Somehow Borgli can walk that line in his writing that keeps us from completely hating Signe and remaining embarrassed for her, whether she’s self-aware enough or not.
There are some glaring problems with the movie, though. Borgli holds some pretty ignorant ideas about the true nature of disability. Signe is lauded for her “bravery” and even offered a modeling contract with a supposedly “progressive” brand. I will make an assumption here, but I am guessing Borgli isn’t disabled because that’s simply not how that works in the Western world. While Europe is slightly more accommodating towards the disabled than the United States, having a physical disability is still something that will draw negative attention, not modeling contracts.
There are terrific moments of dark comedy here; if you’re a fan of the squirm in your seat as a character digs their hole deeper type of entertainment, then Sick of Myself has that in droves. But there comes the point in the second act where Signe & Thomas are just so paper thin it’s hard to stay invested anymore. Signe has some moments where she genuinely becomes unlikable, but that is thankfully cut short as the picture is wrapping up. Borgli had the right idea that the growing narcissism of performative victimhood is something to explore; he just has some very wrong-headed ideas about who is doing it. As a result, the movie feels one-note in these terms (i.e., Bad people doing increasingly ruder things), and without a solid thematic core, it won’t fail to make you laugh, but you won’t walk away with anything new to think about.