Cappuccino Review: Triangle of Sadness
Another Oscar contender that has me scratching my head and wondering if I missed something.
Given my openly lefty political proclivities and my deep abhorrence of entitlement, particularly that shown by many of the superrich, you might think a movie like Triangle of Sadness would really do it for me. All the ingredients are there: a skewering of Instagram culture, an upending of class structure, a yacht swimming in vomit, a plucky but darkly Machiavellian chamber maid, Woody Harrelson, and what was perhaps one of the most subversive dinner conversations I’ve ever seen on a screen. It’s in your face with every recognizable oppressed/oppressor trope you can think of, it’s funny and over the top, but for about half of us, it missed the mark.
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Before I attempt to answer that question, I’d like to point out the sudden deluge of films (The Menu, which I reviewed here) and cable series (HBO’s The White Lotus, which I hope to review soon) that are taking far more effective aim at the superrich. I’m cheered by this, believing as I do that art reflects life, and unlike 1980’s wealth-revering fare Falcon Crest, Dynasty, and Dallas, these early years of the second decade of the 21st century appear to be sinking their fangs into privilege and excess.
I recognize that these trends tend to reveal themselves in counterpoint. Italy’s glorious era of neorealism (e.g., Vittorio de Sica’s The Bicycle Thief) was bracketed before and after by telefoni bianchi films, so called because of their frequent use of posh white telephones. Before we were forced to endure vapid 1980’s American television, thanks to director Norman Lear, we enjoyed diverse, proletariat shows like All in the Family, Good Times, Maude, Sanford & Son, and Palmerstown, U.S.A.
In these instances, art seemed to follow economic trends as well as social ones. The 1970s, characterized by inflation, disco, and gas lines, prompted us to watch shows that reflected our daily reality. The 1980s were all Gordon Gekko/“Greed is good”/overheated stock markets, and we dared to imagine ourselves in glittery Alexis Carrington cocktail sheaths.
So, what’s going on now in 2023? By most indices, the U.S. economy is booming. Why then are we hungry for entertainment that punishes the uber-wealthy for being their clueless, obnoxious, superficial selves? And does this mean we have finally given up hope of ever achieving riches ourselves?
Triangle of Sadness makes no attempt to answer that specific question, but it does take a stab at plenty of others, where it arrives at the same ham-handed conclusion: people are awful, and rich people are the most awful of all.
In the end, the glee that Swedish director Ruben Östlund takes in giving the rich their comeuppance (let’s just say that in this movie, the term “poop deck” takes on a whole new meaning) lessens the overall comedic effect. There’s only so long you can watch socially clueless software mogul Winston (Oliver Ford Davies) in a barf-encrusted life vest before you find yourself glancing at your watch.
The story is told in three parts: male model Carl (Harris Dickinson) and his more successful Instagram model girlfriend Yaya (the late Charlbi Dean) having a cringey, manipulative, wildly gendered conversation about paying the bill at a restaurant; Carl and Yaya aboard a luxury cruise superyacht in exchange for social media promotion (more cringey exchanges where Carl takes cellphone photos of Yaya pretending to eat a plate of pasta); and then a Gilligan’s Island scenario where everyone is shipwrecked, and beauty, money, status have no power. Now, it’s a level playing field, only this time Abigail the chambermaid (Dolly de Leon), the only one with any survival skills, is calling the shots.
And call them she does.
Watching this movie requires an appreciation of farce, never more so than when a storm besets the superyacht, the food has gone off, and all the rich passengers are hurling their guts out while Woody Harrelson’s drunken ship’s captain is ranting Marxist manifesto over the loudspeaker. Subtle, it is not. And that’s exactly why I didn’t find Triangle of Sadness Oscar-worthy. Entertaining, perhaps, and I was particularly fascinated by Carl and Yaya’s cancerous prolapse of a relationship, but Östlund never circled back around to it. To me, this was sloppy.
The first part of the movie has nothing to do with the rest of the movie, and the questions he raised (i.e., why beautiful women equate their own attractiveness with how much money men spend on them, the lies we tell ourselves and others about money, why talking about money is “unsexy,” and how quickly Carl reverts to the subservient, people-pleasing role formerly occupied by Yaya when the shoe is on another foot) are never addressed.
Despite managing to divide critical opinion on the film, Triangle of Sadness has won its fair share of awards, among them the Palme d’Or for Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenwriter, Best Actor (Zlatko Burić in what I consider a forgettable performance) and Best Supporting Actor (Dolly de Leon, who actually deserves it).
I love social satire as much, if not more, than most horrible old misanthropes, but HBO series The White Lotus does a better job of unsettling us, and The Menu manages to be over the top without resorting to fratty hijinks to get its point across. I don’t regret watching Triangle of Sadness, but I can’t say it stayed with me past the lobby.
Copyright © 2023 Stacey Eskelin
Have you see any of this year’s Oscar contenders? What are your thoughts? Be sure to leave your comments below.
Or, as liked to call them, Falcon Crust, Die-Nasty, and Dall-Ass. I despised that entire genre with a fiery passion that would melt a diamond crusted aiglet. Scatological 'humor' turns me off, and trashing narrative continuity infuriates me. (You'll recall my rant on Ridley Scott and "Gladiator"?) I'll take a hard pass on this one.
Thanks for the review, and saving some minutes I can now more happily waste elsewhere.
After reading this, I just happened to watch Hollywood Masters, an interview show, on Netflix. William Freidkin was the interviewee, and he said, "I don't want to see movies that answer questions--I want movies that ask them." Interesting take; if you have Netflix, you should watch it. It's only about a half-hour. I haven't seen Triangle of Sadness; the trailer didn't grab me.