Incisive, fun, sickening and at times sad in the way it exposes the loneliness at the heart of being noticed, Sick of Me is a vicious satire worthy of your attention.
This debut feature from Norwegian writer-director Kristoffer Borgli stands a good chance of becoming this year’s must-see under-the-radar gem. Produced by the same team behind Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World, by the end of Syk pike (Sick of Myself), you’ll feel like this film is more deserving of Trier’s title.
It opens on a dinner date between bored-out-of-her-tree barista Signe (Kristine Kujath Thorp) and her pretentious conceptual artist partner Thomas (Eirik Sæther). They are sitting in a fancy restaurant, celebrating her birthday. He orders an expensive bottle of wine, hatching a plan to do a runner. Signe, however, is transfixed by the public attention of her birthday cake, and delays the burgeoning kleptomania until she’s basked in the glory. Oh, and one caveat: that the theft of the bottle be attributed to her for bragging rights at a party later on.
From the opening scene, Borgli sets things up nice and clearly, as we get an immediate sense of who these characters are: two hyper-competitive and self-aggrandising people you’d actively try to distance yourself from at any social gathering. They’re both trying to break out of their mostly average lives, and when that happens for Thomas, Signe becomes intensely jealous. She can’t stand the attention he gets with his sculptures made from stolen (yes, that again) designer sofas, and reveals herself – to no one’s surprise – that she cannot be happy for others unless the spotlight is on her.
In order to reclaim that very spotlight she feels she is entitled to, she uses a dog attack outside the café she works in to garner some sympathy. This incident sparks a chain reaction of toxic one-upmanship within the couple with the aim of feeling seen the most by others. No matter the costs. Including manufacturing and shamelessly exploiting a “mysterious illness” for social capital.
As you can probably tell, this devilish black comedy hones in on modern society’s rampant self-obsessions. While films like these can tumble into repetitive hectoring on the ills of the modern online world, Sick of Myself earns its facetted brand of cynicism by never not being astute. Just stop to consider – for that briefest of moments, because it’s a depressing landscape out there – the countless amount of people fixated with going viral. Borgli compellingly explores this false allure of fame, all with a degree of recognisability that creeps on discomfort.
In this respect, Sick of Myself would sit nicely on the shelf next to Matt Spicer’s acidic influencer comedy Ingrid Goes West and Michelle Savill’s satire of social media fakeness Millie Lies Low. There is also a comparison to be made with Quinn Shephard’s sledgehammer satire Not Okay, especially in the way Sick Of Myself shines a light on performative victimhood, and how martyrdom-for-likes can be weaponised to achieve (morally bankrupt) celebrity.
However, there’s something significantly more squirm-inducing about Borgli’s satire: it is shameless in its humour and could even be classified as a horror movie towards the end, especially with the visual of a bandaged Signe, who’s appearance harks back to Georges Franju’s classic Eyes Without a Face. And while the script deserves major plaudits, let’s single out Thorp’s turn as Signe some more.
The character is a villain, but Thorp injects enough humanity in her performance to illicit some slivers of sympathy from the audience as her Munchausen-reminiscent mania progressively worsens. We yearn for her downfall considering how her delusional appetite for clout leads to atrocious behaviour, but simultaneously we understand that she has mental health issues which precipitate self-destruction. Thorp constantly keeps this balancing act alive, and the film is stronger for it. It certainly saves it from being an all-too-easy missile aimed at social media’s narcissism-stroking influence, which could have reduced Sick of Myself to another oversimplified “Aren’t Gen Z and them internets awful?” routine. It thankfully never stoops to that level, even avoiding damning moral judgements, and thrillingly broadening its social satire by exploring how industries (in this case fashion) can, in the name of “inclusivity”, be exploitative in the extreme.
Incisive, fun, vicious and at times deeply sad in the way it exposes the loneliness at the heart of being noticed, Sick of Me – unlike Signe and countless others – deserves your attention.
Sick of Myself is in theatres now.