Ruben Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness has been met with controversy from critics and moviegoers alike. Some believe it’s a scathing social satire on the ultra-rich of our society, while others think its satire is nothing but a ham-fisted message that “rich people are bad.” And even with a mixed reception, it won the Palme D’Or at the Cannes International Film Festival. And while what Östlund pokes fun at has been done a thousand times before, it’s the execution and pitch-perfect comedic timing from its actors that makes Triangle of Sadness one of the most memorable moviegoing experiences of the year.
Triangle of Sadness follows supermodels Carl (Harris Dickinson) and Yaya (the late Charlbi Dean) as they are invited to a luxury cruise aboard a Yacht. They meet a colorful group of people, including a Russian oligarch (Zlatko Burić), an elderly couple (Amanda Walker and Oliver Ford Davies), who made a fortune selling hand grenades all over the world, a lonely software designer (Henrik Dorsin) and a German woman (Iris Berben) who recently suffered a stroke and can only utter the words “In den Wolken!” (which means “in the clouds.”)
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After an incident causes the ship to explode, the crew (Vicki Berlin and Dolly de Leon) must learn to survive harsh conditions with the remaining passengers. And what follows is a hilarious laugh riot that’s equal parts side-splitting and terrifically gross, while never forgoing emotional depth in its character development. The first chapter, Carl & Yaya, is its most emotionally poignant. Dickinson and Dean are riveting to watch, as a couple who seem loving on the surface, but are self-destructive on the inside. It devastates me to know that this will be the last time we will see Charlbi Dean Kriek on the big screen, as the actor passed away from a sudden illness two months ago.
Triangle of Sadness Brings Greatness With It
Her performance as Yaya was touted as the film’s “breakout role.” The opening chapter of Triangle of Sadness sees a star in the making, with the best breakout role of the year. Her facial expressions as the check slides on the table, signaling that she doesn’t want to pay the bill, is the catalyst for an elongated argument they have at the restaurant, in a taxicab, and in a hotel room, finding a great balance between silly and downright dramatic.
Their characters take a backseat in the second and third chapters of Triangle of Sadness, but are still terrific to watch when the film focuses on them. Whether it’s Yaya taking a picture of herself with pasta (but not eating it), or Carl developing a relationship with Abigail (de Leon), which causes a rift in her relationship with Yaya, both Dean and Dickinson show how impeccably talented they are as actors, and their versatility shine during the film’s funniest (and darkest) scenes.
Other major standouts are Dolly de Leon, Vicki Berlin, and Zlatko Burić, who steal the spotlight away from Dean and Dickinson whenever they’re on screen. De Leon’s performance as garnered major buzz, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she ends up being nominated for an Oscar. She shows up late in the film, but holds our attention as soon as she appears until its thrilling climax.
Berlin plays the ship’s head of staff, and is both hilarious and terrifying to watch, especially when she upholds any guest’s request, no matter how outlandish it is. Burić plays the Oligarch who shares one of the funniest scenes of a film filled with “funniest scenes” with Woody Harrelson’s Captain Thomas, as they play cards while reciting lines from Karl Marx and Ronald Reagan.
However, no one is prepared to witness Triangle of Sadness’ “centerpiece” scene, or should I say the pièce de résistance. Many critics dub Triangle of Sadness the “most disgusting film of the year” because it contains an extended scene (about 30 minutes) of the yacht’s passengers vomiting during the Captain’s dinner while the boat rocks through extreme waters. I would normally find something like this extremely vile and a cop out attempt at delivering something genuinely funny, but Östlund constructs his scene like a Jackass skit, where you know exactly what’s going to happen, and yet you find it terribly funny anyways.
I’m not sure which was the funniest part of the sequence, but it had me (and the audience) howling from beginning to end, to the point where I couldn’t breathe as it ended. To sustain this much laughter for thirty unbroken minutes is an impressive feat, but Östlund does it effortlessly.
While the satire isn’t anything new, Östlund still draws an impressive dichotomy between the higher-class passengers (and crew) and the lower class. It’s not that riveting in the yacht but becomes far more fascinating when he turns it on its head on the Island. And it’s where Dolly de Leon’s performance shines so much, and builds the best on-screen rivalry I’ve seen this year between Dean and Dickinson. If you let Triangle of Sadness take its time to build its relationships and characters in its first two parts, you’ll find that Östlund builds everything up perfectly. Everything comes full circle for every character, as we learn more about them and their selfishness.
Östlund creates a world where you don’t want to leave as soon as he presents it to you. Even after 150 minutes, I wanted more. The ending may be a make-or-break moment for many, but all I wanted was to learn more about the characters and Östlund’s creative process while listening to its carefully-selected soundtrack on repeat (which I am currently doing as I am writing this review).
It may not be for everyone, especially with how shallow its satire is, but Triangle of Sadness was certainly for me. Its performances are mesmerizing, its comedy is an absolute hoot to see with a crowd, and its vomit-inducing central setpiece is truly the best-constructed sequence I’ve seen all year. It’s no surprise it won the Palme D’Or, even amidst the controversies of its humor. However, once you’re locked into Carl and Yaya’s relationship, it doesn’t take long for you to become invested in everyone else. See this movie on the big screen as soon as possible.
Triangle of Sadness is now playing in theatres and stars Charlbi Dean Kriek, Harris Dickinson, Dolly de Leon, Zlatko Burić, Iris Berben, Vicki Berlin, Henrik Dorsin, Jean-Christophe Folly, Amanda Walker, Oliver Ford Davies, Sunnyi Melles and Woody Harrelson.
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