Review by Sean Boelman
Between Force Majeure and The Square, Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund already proved that he is one of the best social satirists working today. His newest film, Triangle of Sadness, is likely to be his most divisive yet, with an aggressive sense of humor and social commentary that might be too much for some audiences.
The film follows a model couple who goes on a luxury cruise for the ultra-rich, only for everyone to end up trapped on an island after the ship sinks. However, reducing it to that makes it feel like an “eat the rich” version of Lord of the Flies, which is unfairly reductive of everything that Östlund does in the film.
The thing about the film is that, even though it is consistently entertaining, it is about an hour too long. Clocking in at two and a half hours, this is the type of story that could have been told in a tight ninety minutes. That isn’t to say the remaining hour is a waste of time — there’s very little in the film that isn’t hilarious — but it also isn’t entirely necessary to the story.
More so than Östlund’s other films, Triangle of Sadness blends highbrow social commentary-based humor with lowbrow, gross-out humor. There is one sequence in the middle of the film that will either have audiences rolling in their seats or walking out in disgust. It’s sure to be polarizing, but that is honestly a big part of the film’s charm.
Admittedly, the film’s satire is not subtle whatsoever, but that has been the case with all of Östlund’s films. There are some very interesting insights here about the exuberance of the upper class, and it’s honestly hilarious that the film won the Palme d’Or at Cannes because the film makes fun of the people who rewarded it.
Woody Harrelson is absolutely the highlight of the film as the drunk captain of the yacht. His performance is wonderfully deadpan, serving as the voice of reason amidst all of the chaos and excess. Even though he’s only in the film for about a third of its runtime, he gets some of the best moments in the film.
Harris Dickinson is arguably the film’s lead, but his role is largely to react to the other performers in the ensemble. Dolly De Leon has (rightfully) become an audience-favorite, absolutely stealing the third act with her hilarious performance. The late Charlbi Dean is also extraordinary and hilarious in her role.
Triangle of Sadness will be a riotous watch for many, but this is also perhaps one of the clearest examples of “your mileage may vary.” The over-the-top sense of humor and extremely blunt commentary may be too much to appeal to some, and it’s certainly too long, but if you can get behind the film’s weird sensibilities, you’ll have a blast.
Triangle of Sadness screened at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival, which ran September 8-18.