The titular triangle of sadness of Ruben Östlund’s dark comedy is that little area of skin in between the eyebrows. You have to be careful, for it can crease and wrinkle if you frown too much. But frowning is the goal for model Carl (Harris Dickinson), who shows off his stilted walk at a “grumpy brand” casting, named as such for its gatekeeping advertising that “looks down on the consumer.”
The social and economical hierarchy is laid bare in Triangle of Sadness, as Sweden’s most audacious satirist makes a jab at privilege and wealth. Full of blunt critique and a surprising amount of toilet humour, it may well prove to be just as divisive as the director’s Palme d’Or winner The Square, but it’s no less a rollicking time.
On board a luxury yacht, the uber wealthy have congregregated. There’s Carl and girlfriend Yaya (who earned free tickets thanks to their Instagram following), a pair of Russian oligarchs, and an English couple who make a substantial living as arms dealers (the husband claims he works in “upholding democracy” in one of the film’s sharpest blows). Woody Harrelson makes a brief but hilariously memorable appearance as the ship’s unresponsive captain avoiding all duties — including keeping the yacht afloat.
Money plagues the mind for these elites, despite their comfortable place at the very top. Those materialistic desires fail to dissipate even as they find themselves stranded on an island. For those who have never done as much as cook a meal, the hierarchy of needs is an inverted pyramid. As Carl, Dickinson is a jittery ball of anxious energy in his best performance since his breakout in Beach Rats. But it’s Dolly De Leon (best known for her work in Filipino cinema) who emerges as the true powerhouse, playing a pragmatic cleaner who exposes just how inept the rich and powerful are without paid staff to hold their hand.
No one emerges unscathed from Östlund’s social commentary, but the film’s many ideas may have been more potent if they weren’t always aiming below the belt. Running at a hefty two and a half hours, Triangle of Sadness would have benefited from trimming a derivative first act that targets the vapidness of models and influencer culture.
Nevertheless, the movie is relentlessly funny. In perhaps one of the most audacious gross-out sequences committed to film, passengers and staff navigate rampant seasickness during a violent storm. What other film can claim to have brought a Cannes audience to hysterical laughter with projectile vomit and a Karl Marx joke in the same breath?
If an argument between an American socialist and a Russian capitalist is any indication, subtlety is not the primary aim in this film’s portrayal of class — and it’s a nasty hoot because of it.
Triangle of Sadness is screening at the Cannes Film Festival