Triangle of Sadness Synopsis: Models Carl (Harris Dickinson) and Yaya (Charlbi Dean) are invited for a luxury cruise with a rogues’ gallery of super-rich passengers. At first, all appears Instagrammable, but the cruise ends catastrophically and the group finds themselves marooned on a desert island.
An age-old clash between economic classes receives a satirical redux in Triangle of Sadness. For writer/director Ruben Östlund, deft social parables are a revered calling card of his artistic oeuvre. He garnered significant praise for his family dramedy Force Majeure – which fittingly received a far less sophisticated American remake – while also garnering acclaim for his similarly bleak comedy The Square.
With Triangle, Östlund returns to a familiar well with diminishing results. This tale of a down-on-his-luck model and his celebrity partner undergoing a trial by fire aims its sights on the ripe subject matter through a trilogy of satirical acts. The final product’s inconsistencies depict inspired blurbs of biting commentary and deflating moments of self-indulgent craftsmanship.
Even in a so-so feature, Östlund remains a compelling voice behind the camera. He and long-time cinematographer Fredrik Wenzel command the camera precisely, implementing a slew of naturalistic tracking shots and stylistic flourishes that accent the underlying themes effectively. I also appreciate the director’s ability to indulge in downright farcical ideas without leaning into the joke. The constant straight face helps sell the downright ridiculousness of the material’s absurdist comedic bend.
Some moments of Triangle of Sadness score uproarious laughs from this approach. The much-discussed second act, set inside a luxury cruiser, is where the film’s comedic voice truly takes flight, submerging itself in the seedy classist conditions dictating the boat’s hierarchy. Eventually, the carefully-constructed system comes crumbling down in a 15-20 minute segment that erupts with humorously deranged results.
I applaud Östlund for his well-defined perspective, although the auteur’s sensibilities eventually become a hindrance here. Triangle often feels unrestrained in its pursuits, lingering in its muck of commentaries and comedic pratfalls across an entirely bloated 147-minute runtime. The bloat would go down easier if the whole experience didn’t endure such wild inconsistencies. For every sharp situation, Östlund repurposes dated gags and uninspired narrative detours that lack the same creative spark of the film’s best moments.
Triangle of Sadness’ thematic ambitions are equally unfulfilling. Stories of class warfare are more commonplace than ever in our divisive society – so much so that much of the ground Triangle treads can’t help feeling antiquated. Östlund’s perspective on the inevitable formation of social hierarchies and their ultimately dehumanizing effects presents merit. Unfortunately, the auteur doesn’t convey his astute observations with the impact and nuance he seeks. This effect is most felt in the film’s characters. Stars Harris Dickinson and the late Charlbi Dean are wonderfully sharp as a not-so-loving couple. Effective supporting turns from Woody Harrelson and Dolly De Leon add some much-needed comedic acidity to the table, yet none of the cast is able to create lived-in characters from the material’s embrace of well-worn stereotypes.
While mildly compelling, Triangle of Sadness reckons with a timeless issue in an erratic and ultimately unsatisfying feature. Still, I remain a fan of Östlund’s verbose voice behind the camera and remain intrigued to see where he goes next.
Triangle of Sadness is now playing in theaters.
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