We’ve talked a lot about subtly in film recently. The conscience choice to either disguise your themes or exalt them has always been a key piece of storytelling, particularly in films with something to say. There’s no one right way to go about it. Some thrive in demanding its audience to put the pieces together themselves, while others present a completed puzzle from the start. “Triangle of Sadness” is a blunt instrument, leaving no room for ambiguity and using its declaration of “eat the rich” to bludgeon its audience to death. Writer/director Ruben Ostlund has always been this kind of filmmaker, and the two time Palm D’Or winner remains steadfast in his beliefs that he pours into his work. And in less capable hands, “Triangle of Sadness” would be insufferable, an exhaustive hammering of the same point on the same nail for well over two hours if you don’t feel compelled to leave half way through.
Thankfully, Ostlund’s skewering sentiment towards the uber rich is packed with enough terrific performances and some truly laugh out loud moments to help keep the film afloat and add a spoonful of sugar to the satirical medicine to help it go down easier. “Triangle of Sadness” is told in three distinct parts, all of which feel like films unto themselves and are only tied together by the recurring cast. We begin with models Carl and Yaya, who argue over money and gender roles. They come to an agreement that their relationship can be largely transactional, because their line of work requires that they get the most milage out of their youthful image before age comes for them. The title “Triangle of Sadness” refers to the area at the top of the nose between the eyebrows that is often fixed by botox, which Carl is told during an audition that they may need to fix as he’s commanded to strut around like a dance monkey, each part of his body being critiqued by a panel of fashion elitists. This introduction is the set up for much of what’s to come; transactional relationships, money over everything, and power hungry ambition.
Harris Dickinson and the late Charlbi Dean (who sadly passed away in August) as Carl and Yaya are the lynchpins of the film, predominantly through the first two acts. Their chemistry and performances paired with their solid comedic timing make their elongated argument over who should pay for their expensive dinner one of the more interesting aspects of the first act. The pair largely carry us through act 2 as well, which sees our couple earn a trip onto a $250 million luxury yacht cruise to promote it through social media (which Yaya does hilariously and predictably at the same time, mocking once again the vapid counterfeit influencer culture) and quickly realize that as much as they think they belong here, they do not. It is here where we meet the cast that make up the second act of “Triangle of Sadness,” a collection of exclusively white, old, delusional elites who brag about their money and are portrayed as caricatures of actual human beings. Ostlund is once again shining a big bright spotlight on his purpose, with all of the rich passengers being white and insufferable twits and everyone with any kind of color or humanity being relegated to the cleaning staff of the lower decks and out of sight of the rich.
It is here where “Triangle of Sadness” slows down the most, but it’s all in preparation for one of the grossest, unflinching, far too long scenes I’ve seen in recent times. Ostlund uses gross out humor to take a sledgehammer to how he feels about the Jeff Bezos’ of the world, mocking them with minutes upon minutes of literal vomit and shit. It goes on for far longer than anyone could possibly be comfortable with, all while a Russian fertilizer mogul and the alcoholic captain (played by the always wonderful but criminally underutilized Woody Harrelson) trade capitalist, socialist, and communist barbs back and forth over the loud speaker for everyone to hear. It is riotously funny even if it overstays it welcome, and takes us to the final act which sees a handful of survivors on a desert island after the ship sinks.
Among them are of course Carl and Yaya, with a collection of random passengers and crew members. “Triangle of Sadness” finale becomes a “Lord of the Flies” survival story, in the which the power dynamics shift drastically as Abigail (the toiler cleaner on the ship) becomes the captain of the island due to her possessing necessary skills like fishing and starting a fire. If at this point, you’re struggling to decide if I’m reviewing one single movie still, you’re not wrong. “Triangle of Sadness” is so distinct in its three part act break that it almost feels as if it should’ve just been an anthology collection. Each act takes on a life of its own, and the fact that Carl and Yaya are the two characters that appear in all three becomes irrelevant and not the true connective tissue Ostlund wants them to be. What’s more challenging, is that as funny and scathing as the film is, “Triangle of Sadness” doesn’t have a single likable character. This is, of course, on purpose, because Ostlund comprises his film exclusively with people he hates in real life. I’m all for taking the elite down a peg, and have no problem with mocking their status and destructive ways they amassed their wealth, but Ostlund’s lack of subtly fails to really get his audience on his side.
That’s because there’s no one to really side with in the first place. Dolly De Leon is an MVP as Abigail, and she ignites a renewed fire and interest into the story when she starts to take over and puts the stupid elite in their place. But “Triangle of Sadness” doesn’t allow her to exist as a hero for long, and it doesn’t take too much time to transform her into a tyrannical dictator of the island, getting whatever she wants in exchange for her skills and food offerings. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t take some pleasure in watching De Leon hurl pieces of cooked fish at the elite like trained seals, and there is some sadistic pleasure in watching it happen. But that’s more due to De Leon’s performance than it is the actual character of Abigail, and “Triangle of Sadness” simply can’t let go of its contempt for its characters to be as fun as the satirical portrayal of them should be.
As busy as “Triangle of Sadness” is and as much as it wants to be, it’s pretty straight forward from start to finish. Ostlund has one point, and anything that transpires exists solely to remind us that rich people are pretty shitty and deserve the worst. It is largely successful due to its laugh out loud comedy and solid performances all around. Dean’s Yaya is a real star making performance, and her life tragically being cut short deprives us all of a rising superstar who’s work here is sure to make you wish you could see more of. Harrison demonstrates some versatility, expanding his horizons into new territory and doing so effortlessly. And lastly, there’s Dolly De Leon, who comes alive (albeit briefly) late in the game to carry the film and the audience through to the final stretch. There were two moments where my audience cheered, one of which I won’t spoil and the other involved the De Leon takeover. She’s THAT good when she’s finally given the spotlight, and becomes the centerpiece of the finale, all the way to its final, unresolved cliffhanger ending.
For all its faults and bluntness, “Triangle of Sadness” is still a very fun watch. It may be too forward for its own good and far too long and messy to be more meaningful than self indulgent, but there’s just enough to like and laugh hysterically at that you won’t be disappointed you gave it a shot.
A shot at watching “Triangle of Sadness,” not a shot of botox.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
“Triangle of Sadness” is now playing in select theaters. You can watch the trailer below.