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'Triangle of Sadness' Review

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May 28, 2022
Hunter Friesen
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Triangle of Sadness premiered at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival. Neon will release the film at a later date.

An influencer couple, a Russian capitalist, two British arms dealers, and an American Marxist sea captain all board a $250 million luxury yacht bound for the high seas. What could go wrong?

You’ve seen movies better at dissecting economic classism than Triangle of Sadness. You’ve also seen much tighter and more succinct ones. And you’ve definitely seen ones that leave you with a better understanding of an issue than when you walked in. But, I don’t think you’ve ever seen a film that doesn't do all of that and still be as wickedly hilarious as Triangle of Sadness.

Ruben Östlund has never found an issue he can’t tackle. Whether it be mundane social norms in Involuntary, male ego in Force Majeure (for which he was given the dubious honor of having remade in the English language with the woefully dull Downhill), or the upside-down art world in The Square, the Swedish filmmaker has always found a playful way to show just how absurd life is.

And, along with those themes of social skewering, the thing that has stayed most consistent is the praise he’s received. Force Majeure snagged the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, which allowed him to be “promoted” to the official competition with 2017’s The Square. The brighter lights did nothing to hinder his upward trajectory as he added the prestigious Palme d’Or to his trophy shelf. Now in 2022, Östlund’s stock continues to rise with his second consecutive Palme win, joining Michael Haneke and fellow countrymen Billie August as the only filmmakers to win the award for back-to-back films. So, with all the awards surrounding Triangle of Sadness as it sets its American theatrical release, the question remains: Does it live up to the hype? Well, yes and no.

Taking a page out of the Zoolander school of satire, Östlund’s film opens with a modeling audition. At the age of 25, Carl (both smartly and aloofly played by the rising Harris Dickinson) is getting a little too close to being phased out of his career as the roles in the “grumpy” and “smiley” brands aren’t coming as easily as they used to. He’s left to languish in a slow and painful societal death, which includes losing social media followers and invites to his girlfriend Yaya’s (Charlbi Dean, who tragically passed away just after the film’s premiere) runway shows. This A Star Is Born dynamic threatens the pair’s relationship, which Östlund punctuates with a side-splitting cringe-fueled debate over who should pick up the check at a restaurant.

Fortunately, the couple is bound for a superyacht vacation that will act as the final opportunity to mend their connection. On the boat, they become the middle class, stuck between the uber-rich guests and the lowly workers that service every passenger’s whim, which includes going for a swim to assuage their master’s guilt and promising to clean the sails, even though this a motorized vessel.

In this second act of the film’s clear three-act structure, Östlund unleashes a tirade of written and visual allegories upon his micro-society, with two standouts being Woody Harrelson’s alcoholic ship captain and the closing scene where the ship fills with literal shit and vomit. Any viewers with a weak stomach have been properly warned. None of what Östlund is saying is revolutionary, but it is oh so funny.

But that high level of hilarity can’t sustain itself across the film’s extremely bloated 150-minute runtime, which becomes quite clear during the final, and weakest, act. Through unforeseen circumstances, the passengers have been marooned on a desolate island. Things get even more in-your-face by Östlund as the social hierarchy completely flips, with the white-collar passengers proving to be inept and the “peasants” becoming royalty because of their basic survival skills. From here to the end, most everything only elicits a mild chuckle instead of the belly-aching that the first two hours had accustomed us to.

Triangle of Sadness demands to be seen with the largest crowd possible, as its mixture of low and high-brow humor travels like wildfire in the moment. Unfortunately for the majority of the viewers, the post-pandemic theatrical landscape doesn’t create too many opportunities for that level of a collective experience for any non-MCU branded film. It’s a true pity, as my Cannes screening of Östlund’s farce in May has lasted longer in my memory than most blockbusters do the day after.

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