Review: Triangle of Sadness

One of the biggest surprises from Oscar nomination announcements was a classism satire sneaking into both Best Picture and Best Director. Triangle of Sadness, from acclaimed writer/director Ruben Östlund, was one of those films that’s been on my radar for a while but I was holding out to see if it would come out on streaming before I was forced to see it. The trailer didn’t really pique my interest and I had heard mixed reviews from critics I trust so basically I was in no rush to see it. Welp, now I had to see what all the hype was about.

The film focuses on a celebrity couple (Harris Dickinson and Charlbi Dean) on a luxury cruise in the Ionian Sea run by a drunken captain (Woody Harrelson) and a crew catering to all the needs of their wealthy patrons, no matter how unique. It’s an amusing look at how disconnected the super wealthy can be from the rest of society while also touching on the absurdity of working class people bending over backwards to appease them. The cruise predictably turns sour as they encounter rough seas and pirates.

I’m very torn on this film so let’s start with the positives. While not quite laugh-out-loud funny it’s certainly an amusing satire of the uber wealthy. There’s a balance of political humor, dry deliveries, and gross-out gags…maybe a lot of gross-out gags. Everyone is well cast and there are several standouts among the crew and the guests. Some of the best comedic moments of the film come once the ship encounters some rough waters and I won’t get into what happens from there.

Now there are plenty of issues with this film, particularly the beginning and the end. The opening act of the film which focuses on Carl (Dickinson) and Yaya’s (Dean) lives as successful models and their relationship. The issue is that they get a large chunk of time devoted to introducing us to these characters but the opening scene of act II shows us everything we need to know about them so essentially the opening act bears no impact on the rest of the film so there’s 25 minutes that could have been shaved off right there. Issue number two: without getting into spoilers, the film ends VERY abruptly. As in I audibly asked to an audience of no one “that’s it?” So that kind of soured a film that I felt got stronger and stronger as time passed. It’s a two-and-a-half hour comedy and anybody whose seen a Judd Apatow movie knows it’s not easy to keep an audience laughing for that long but it was trending in the right direction in the middle and final acts.

I did love the cast in this. Woody Harrelson is obviously the biggest name but his role is more supporting and he steals the limited amount of screen time he has. Dickinson and Dean are also perfect as a bickering and deeply insecure celebrity couple. Croatian actor Zlatko Buric also stands out as a drunken fertilizer-selling Russian socialist. But the performance everyone is rightfully praising here is for Dolly de Leon as Abigail the maid. It takes a little while for her role to kick in and I don’t want to spoil anything but once she takes over the comedy really starts to kick in to high gear.

As far as awards love goes for this, I’m surprised this got into Best Picture over The Whale and I’m shocked that Östlund is in Best Director over a handful of more deserving directors like Sarah Polley, James Cameron, or Edward Berger. Östlund, while he may not be a big name to Americans, is a well-renowned filmmaker who is among a handful of directors to win two Palme d’Or awards at Cannes, including one for this film, and he’s had five films in the festival since 2008. It’s best shot was winning anything this year will like be in Best Original Screenplay but between The Fabelmans, The Banshees of Inisherin, and Everything Everywhere All At Once there’s just too much competition for it to really be a contender.

I’d say Triangle of Sadness is a solid comedy with plenty of issues, often trying to be too smart for its own good. It’s certainly one of the lesser entries in the Best Picture field this year but overall I’d say I enjoyed this movie. Don’t feel like you need to drop everything you’re doing to see this movie but if you want to see all ten nominees it’s worth a watch.

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