Written by: Ruben Östlund
Starring: Harris Dickinson, Charlbi Dean, Dolly de Leon, Zlatko Burić, Iris Berben
Throwing excrement at the obscenely and stupid rich has continued to be a theme at the turn of this new decade because it’s such a fun thing to do. Mock and degrade those who have built more than comfortable lives for themselves out of exploiting others. It’s a genre I can never get tired of, but there still needs to be precision in the storytelling involved, which is the area where Triangle of Sadness ultimately struggles the most in its structure. While very funny in moments and good as a whole, its scattershot approach to its satirical jabs at the rich leaves plenty to be desired, especially when it has such an audacious runtime.
Models and influencers, Yaya (Charlbi Dean) and Carl (Harris Dickinson) get the free experience of going on a yacht with other obscenely rich guests. What’s meant to be an experience of glamor turns into something they will never forget.
Holding your cards close to the vest remains important when speaking about this feature as it’s split up into four distinct parts and each of them carries its own lesson and criticism of the machinations of society. It’s certainly the intention of Ruben Östlund in telling this story. The first part involves Carl attempting to get a modeling job where jabs are thrown at the modeling industry and the way they present their models and the allure of their clothes, which then transitions to a conversation about the conventions about paying for check while on a date. This introduces Carl and Yaya in what could have been an interesting film in itself. However, Östlund had much more he wanted to say and while it’s all good biting satire about the rich, it becomes far too sprawling for him to contain, which serves as the detriment of the film in what it seeks to accomplish. It feels like two movies mashed together and the end result proves to be an overlong and disjointed feature.
This big shift occurs when it comes to the vacation on the yacht where the societal criticism moves from the domestic to the way there are different classes of individuals in each social situation. On the yacht, there are the rich guests, the white yacht staff, and the non-white behind-the-scenes workers who are mostly told to stay out of sight. The conversations held between these individuals allow for plenty of comedic instances and cringe moments, which mostly serve to show the obliviousness of the rich and how they impact the livelihood of these workers. It ultimately leads to a major incident that takes place on the boat, which will either leave you trying to catch your breath from laughter or gross you out. I would say I found myself on the latter, especially when it gets thrown into a conversation about capitalism vs. socialism in a sequence that ultimately gets exhausting at a certain point. Exhausting is a good way to describe the experience of watching this film as it then moves to a fourth segment of the story that changes things up in a dramatic way and I just wanted the film to end even if the final segment certainly has its merit. It goes back to my criticism of the film as a whole where it’s far too scattershot and lacks any sense of precision in the societal criticisms it wants to make.
Individual moments in this feature are brilliant, and it shows why Östlund is such a respected filmmaker in our current landscape and that this feature won the prestigious Palme d’Or. It allows individuals who live their lives believing everyone beneath them are there to serve to suffer immensely and embarrassingly. There’s certainly a cathartic feeling emanating throughout this feature as comeuppance gets served in a hot dish on several occasions. Different moments or scenes can be picked out in isolation that work so well, however, when trying to put it all together in one feature film, it just does not quite work as well as it should, which is a shame. It feels like a debut director trying to cram together so many things into one feature because they do not know if they’ll get another chance to do so. Except Ruben Östlund is already a Palme D’Or winning director who could afford to spread things out more.
Triangle of Sadness provides so much to enjoy for those who want to watch the ultra-rich squirm and I’m sure many more will enjoy what this film presents. It undoubtedly has audacious moments of comedy and I’m glad features like this exist because they serve a greater purpose. I just had higher expectations for how Östlund could weave it all together and in that sense, I would argue he did not succeed despite the singular pieces being so intelligent in their criticism of our vapid, money-hungry, and demeaning society.