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TIFF Film Review: ‘Triangle of Sadness’ Offers Up a Repetitive Joke That Wears Out Its Welcome Early

NEON
NEON

It’s very clear that Ruben Östlund is a festival darling. His black comedies, especially at the Cannes Film Festival, always go over. Force Majeure, The Square, and now Triangle of Sadness, they’ve all met with fondness in the south of France. Here at the Toronto International Film Festival, a positive, if more muted, reception has been meeting the movie. Yours truly, however, did not care for this film. One of the more disappointing titles of the festival season, the Palme d’Or winner left me incredibly cold. That’s not the normal response, either out of Cannes or TIFF, but that’s the one I had.

Triangle of Sadness bashes you over the head with its satirical message. Between that and the largely unlikable people you’re asked to spend two and a half hours with, there’s just not enough to hold on to here. When a third of your film is actively annoying, that’s a big hurdle to clear. This flick, unfortunately, is incapable of clearing it.

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This satire is split up into three very distinct acts. We kick off with a look at the modeling world, mainly through the eyes of Carl (Harris Dickinson). After an audition for a shoot, he’s at dinner with his fellow model girlfriend Yaya (Charlbi Dean), where he’s made uncomfortable by her waiting for him to pay the bill. A long conversation about gender dynamics ensues, which also tells you a fair amount about their relationship.

The second section takes place on the luxury cruise ship, helmed by the drunk and reclusive Captain (Woody Harrelson) and filled with the elites of the elite. Carl and Yaya have been invited as influencers, and they find themselves surrounded by folks like Russian oligarch Dimitry (Zlatko Buric), demanding Vera (Sunnyi Melles), and even an elderly couple that makes hand grenades. They’re served by a cruise that includes crisp and friendly assistance by employees like Paula (Vicki Berlin), as well as ignored/invisible service from the likes of Abigail (Dolly De Leon). I won’t say what happens in the third act, but it turns everything on its head, including the dynamics of power.

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The cast is hardly the problem here. They perform the material in Triangle of Sadness well, it’s just somewhat lacking material. Harris Dickinson is fine but a bit one note, while Charlbi Dean is lovely yet under used. At the same time, everyone is leaning in to the nature of their characters. Woody Harrelson is fun but largely a waste. Among the supporting characters, Dolly De Leon is a clear highlight. The rest of the cast includes those mentioned above, as well as Henrik Dorsin, Alicia Eriksson, Carolina Gynning, Arvin Kananian, and more.

Filmmaker Ruben Östlund has a certain style, that much is clear by now. He hits you over the head with the jokes and themes repeatedly, aiming for a sort of cringe comedy that doesn’t work nearly enough. The first act of the film is also very rough, before steadying a bit in the middle, and finding more of its footing at the back end. It’s still an overly long movie, with fairly poor pacing. It’s just frustrating to see good elements buried among mediocre ones, with repetitive elements gaining too much of a focus.

Triangle of Sadness is a film that I wanted to like. My colleagues on the ground here at Toronto have largely enjoyed it. So, the TIFF crowd approves, just like the Cannes audience did. Maybe it’s just me? I found plenty of little elements to enjoy, but the overall product felt too repetitive and broad to work as intended. I’m glad I saw the movie, but it does now have me less excited for what this filmmaker could be planning next, since Östlund has been slowly losing me for a bit now. Oh well.

SCORE: ★★

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Written by Joey Magidson

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