‘Triangle of Sadness’ movie review: A juvenile satire on the uber-rich

Despite some fascinating performances from Charlbi Dean Kriek and Woody Harrelson, director Ruben Östlund bites off more than he can chew and struggles to digest it

Updated - December 01, 2022 07:12 pm IST

Published - December 01, 2022 04:45 pm IST

Charlbi Dean Kriek as Yaya and Harris Dickinson as Carl in ‘Traingle of Sadness’.

Charlbi Dean Kriek as Yaya and Harris Dickinson as Carl in ‘Traingle of Sadness’.

The 2022 Palme d’Or winner tackles the monsters born out of patriarchy, the bourgeoisie, the military-industrial complex, the fashion industry, and the sex trade over a cruise. 

A power couple, Yaya (Charlbi Dean Kriek) and Carl (Harris Dickinson) are the stars of the first act of Ruben Östlund’s latest film. Yaya is an influential model allergic to gluten, and brands love pampering her with freebies to get their names on her social media; meanwhile, Carl struggles to make a name for himself professionally in her shadow. An argument breaks out between the two over a dinner bill as Carl is frustrated by Yaya’s unwillingness to pay her share, a pattern he admits he has been observing for a while. This is definitely the film at its strongest — the conversation, like any conversation that involves money in a relationship, is awkward yet feels necessary. The post-mortem by Yaya of her decision to not pay the bill is refreshing, albeit a little too expositive which ends up breaking the tension a little too abruptly — a pattern that can be seen throughout the film.

Triangle of Sadness
Director: Ruben Östlund
Cast: Charlbi Dean Kriek, Harris Dickinson, Woody Harrelson, Dolly De Leon, Carolina Gynning, Vicki Berlin, Zlatko Burić
Runtime: 140 minutes
Plot: A cruise for the super-rich sinks, leaving survivors — including a fashion model celebrity couple — trapped on an island

The second act is set in the sea. Yaya, who was gifted the tickets to the cruise, takes Carl along with her. The cruise is full of the uber-rich; from Russian oligarchs to grenade manufacturers, the myriad characters (who are all white) make for interesting caricatures with predictable backstories. In the initial hours of the cruise, most of the jokes cracked far away from the land land (sorry) and Östlund’s crass humour is worth appreciating. However, things take a turn for the worse for those aboard the cruise — and the audience — after a captain’s dinner on a stormy night that is marred with vomit and faeces. The Marxist captain’s (Woody Harrelson) Google quote exchange with the Regan-fanboy Russian oligarch revives the tension and gives us a moment of hope, only to plunge us into despair with a hijack of the ship, that leaves the survivors of the cruise marooned on a no man’s island.

The scales of power are titled and Abigail (Dolly De Leon), a worker on the ship, is the self-appointed captain of the lifeboat and the events that follow are reminiscent of George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

In the third act, the jokes don’t hit the shore and, like the survivors, we become tired of the satire that is spread a little too thin to make any tangible impact. There are brief moments of relief; like when Yaya admonishes Carl for his aggressive body language, but unfortunately, they get lost under Östlund’s overwhelming need to deride and critique every aspect of modern society, rendering the satire — that he has built over the two acts — somewhat pointless. The cliffhanger at the end does not do much to lift the spirit of the film too.

The late Charlbi Dean Kriek as the coy girlfriend leaves us enraptured by her performance, and Woody Harrelson is a breath of fresh air among the sea-sick travellers. Dolly De Leon is magnetic in the third act, but the loose writing lets her talent slip by. Just like the people at the captain’s dinner, director Östlund bites off more than he can chew and struggles to digest it.

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