This is an advanced review out of the Cannes Film Festival, where Triangle of Sadness made its world premiere.
Triangle of Sadness is a ruthless, raucous comedy that starts off by skewering the fashion industry, but swiftly moves on to the ultra-rich and famous. A social satire? In this economy? Absolutely.
Carl (Harris Dickinson) and his supermodel influencer girlfriend Yaya (Charlbi Dean) have been dating only a short while. It’s good for their social media profiles, don’t you know. But the unlikely pair are already at a crucial point in their relationship. Carl is insecure about his career, and his money (or lack of) is a bit of a sore point. An excruciating but side-splittingly funny scene early on establishes their dynamic as he drags out a conversation about who picks up the bill at dinner. He’s Larry David and she’s, well, a supermodel. And that’s only going to end one way.
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Director Ruben Östlund expertly fashions a cutting mockery of influencers and the rich. His comedic timing is impeccable, knowing exactly when to draw out a scene for excruciating, cringeworthy laughs, and when to undermine his protagonists for a quick, immediate chuckle. But then, social satire is Östlund’s specialty. Triangle of Sadness is the wickedly funny follow-up to The Square and his first new film since 2017. Frankly, it’s worth the wait.
His examination of influencers continues when Carl and Yaya are “gifted” a free luxury cruise on a yacht full of the ultra-rich, where we met a ton of fellow one-percenters, each with a grotesquely exploitative origin story and a lust for the finer things, such as champagne, caviar, and Nutella.
But these are no mere caricatures. Östlund creates a certain depth to these individuals that leave you hating and pitying them in equal measure. The true beauty of Östlund’s comedy is in how little self-awareness they have. And as things go awry, that’s played for laughs even more.
Woody Harrelson is perfect as the rarely seen captain who usually locks himself in his cabin getting drunk. He’s a Marxist and hates every moment he’s forced to spend with the rich reprobates aboard his ship. But when the Captain’s Dinner goes wrong, the film erupts in a hail of toilet humor and vomit.
Östlund’s mastery of his genre extends to more than just comedic timing, as a series of stomach-churning, off-kilter shots pull us into the action, putting us right there with them. It’s a nauseating choice that will leave you feeling a bit queasy, but it’s remarkably effective.
Harrelson gets some impressive dialogue to chew on, too, after the captain knocks back a few too many glasses of wine and begins reciting political theories over the ship’s tannoy.
The film’s third and final act keeps things fresh by switching gears, but thankfully, the laughs keep on coming. Ultimately, the film runs a little too long, and some unnecessary scenes at the end leave you wishing Triangle of Sadness was just a little bit tighter. That said, it never fully runs out of steam and there’s plenty of wind let in its sails.
Triangle of Sadness is a comedic tour de force from a director who really understands how to wage a tremendously funny class war. Östlund’s cringe-inducing humor pairs well with some genuine laugh-out-loud moments to create an all-round hilarious social satire. Meanwhile, Dickinson dominates the movie with an understated, yet toe-curlingly funny characterization of a male model who’s not quite the big deal he thought he was… giving us an excruciating glimpse of the high life from someone who remains on the periphery. He may not be Balenciaga, but he can sure take a pretty Instagram snap.
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