A luxury yacht cruise goes horribly wrong.
Directed by Ruben Ostlund
Starring Harris Dickinson, Dolly de Leon, and Woody Harrelson
Review by Jon Kissel
Divided into three chapters, Triangle of Sadness spends the first two driving the viewer away before getting them back in the final third. Carl and Yaya are both models, a profession that Ostlund has exactly zero respect for. Again cribbing from The Square, there’s a tiny bit in here about how this profession and this industry cannot reconcile its inherent exclusivity with a trendy push towards inclusivity, and as much as Ostlund loves that dichotomy, that’s not what this movie is about. Yaya’s status as a social media influencer gets them invited onto a luxury yacht for act two, where the staff’s braindead insistence that they fulfill the customer’s every demand results in a time-sensitive dinner being delayed. Everyone gets food poisoning, coating the white carpets with vomit and designer dresses with diarrhea. In the midst of this, pirates attack and cause an explosion, marooning a handful of characters on a beach. The only one with any sense of what to do is formerly lowly maid Abigail (Dolly de Leon), and she parlays her knowledge into a top-of-the-pyramid seat in this new society.
Ostlund doesn’t inject them with Giardia or Salmonella, but he puts his viewer through the wringer just as he’s doing the same to his characters. His first torture device is having his two young models argue about gender roles amidst a fight about who pays the dinner bill. They’re not completely unintelligent or lacking in rapport, but the banal details of their relationship are difficult to find a rooting interest in. His longer, more effective enhanced interrogation technique is the decompensation on the boat, which reaches mother! levels of discomfort. The frame bobbles and rocks with the ship and the intestinal liquidity of its inhabitants. Gurgles and blurps fill the soundtrack, as toilets overflow and further soak the people who filled them. Amidst all that, Harrelson’s captain reads directly from the Communist Manifesto over the intercom. This is a flee-the-theater sequence that’s far too long, and whose minimal pleasure comes from watching miserable people be miserable. Ostlund’s serving empty calories to the viewer, and providing them with none of the heftier themes and considerations from his earlier work.
The final act is a significant improvement in its beat-by-beat developments, though there’s not much thematic meat on the bone here, either. Despite the Beatitudes-inflected reversal of power, the world gets recapitulated, with resource-hoarding and exploitation and violence to uphold the status quo. It manages to also be a solid hang-out comedy, as everyone gets along pretty well once the hierarchies are established. This section has stakes and surprises and could’ve easily occupied more time than it does. Triangle of Sadness’ major error is that the titular shape is unbalanced, such that the beach corner needed a greater share of the total 180 degrees. If this film wasn’t going to have very much to say, which it doesn’t, it could have at least been more entertaining than it is. Ostlund understands that he needs to exit on a high note, and that’s one thing that Triangle of Sadness is able to pull off. His work has been best when it burrows into the viewer’s brain, causing them to place themselves in the characters and wonder how they’d react or to recognize a dramatic irony in the real world. Triangle of Sadness doesn’t do either, but don’t think too hard about what it’s missing. Here’s some projectile vomit to wince/laugh at. C+