The latest film from Swedish writer-director, Ruben Ostlund is a mash-up of a movie intending to be clever social/political satire.
The trailers, as always, looked great. A small group of super-rich people with a celebrity supermodel couple on a quarter of a billion-dollar yacht. The clips showed the crew being instructed to never say no to the guests, no matter, scenes of people dining on gourmet food followed by mass projectile vomiting, Woody Harrelson as the quirky captain-- it looked like a hilariously funny, sharply stinging satire for the times.
It reportedly earned an 8-minute standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival, which in itself should have been a tip-off. Movies like this are often box office poison when they hit the theaters. They are movies made for critics, not necessarily the general public.
An so it is with Triangle of Sadness, an overly-long, three-part movie made up of bits and pieces of a half dozen movies and television shows.
It begins as a story about two super-attractive young models Yaya and Carl, out on a date at a fancy restaurant where the gourmet food costs a fortune. It’s Yaya’s turn to buy dinner, but when her credit cards tank, the bill is handed to Carl and the argument about the dinner, the tab, and their relationship begins.
It’s a story about celebrity and fame and fortune or the lack thereof. While the struggling, bickering young couple is fun to behold, they are just this side of being interesting. They are young, and attractive, and that’s about it.
In the second chapter of the film, we find them aboard a quarter-billion-dollar luxury yacht (filmed aboard the famous Onassis yacht, the Christine O) with a small collection of super-rich, gratingly obnoxious passengers. While Yaya and Carl are somewhat successful, we know that they can’t afford the cruise. As it turns out, Yaya’s status as a social influencer lands them the opportunity to be treated like royalty and hobnob with the highest of high rollers.
They wine and dine and take endless photos of Yaya in her bikini enjoying all the amenities.
They are fish out of water, amidst a potpourri of privileged people: a man who claims to have made his fortune “selling shit” (he later explains that he is Europe’s biggest fertilizer distributer), a lovely older British couple who are arms dealers, and a stroke victim who can only utter one phrase, “In den Wolken,” which is German for “In the clouds.” It’s the equivalent of the running-gag phrase “I am Groot” in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, except for the fact that the gag works better in the superhero movie.
And then, there is the ridiculously reclusive captain played by Woody Harrelson who never leaves his cabin, raising the question: Who’s steering this Ship of Fools?
There is apparently no one at the helm, which is pretty much the plight of this meandering, rudderless film, adrift in a sea of social observation.
The yacht part of the film is essentially a Monty Python version of the TV series Below Deck. It’s about a beleaguered crew trying to please a snotty collection of socialites. When they are instructed to “Never say no,” you know that trouble lies ahead.
When the entire crew is invited to enjoy the water slide for a dip in the sea, the abandonment of the duties has a disastrous outcome when spoiled food is later served for The Captain’s Dinner during a storm. In a scene stolen from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983), the guests violently regurgitate their food in a scene that seems to last a full ten minutes. It’s funny, if you like to watch people throwing up.
In the final chapter of the film, the passengers and crew find themselves marooned on a desert island, an idea borrowed from any number of sources, from Gilligan’s Island to both versions of Swept Away (Lina Wertmuller’s classic in 1974 and the less-than-classic remake in 2002 starring Madonna).
Once there, we witness the parable about power and position. The richest and most powerful people on the yacht are now at the mercy of a lowly female crew member, by virtue of the fact that she is the key to food and survival.
Paraphrasing the Bible, it’s that old adage that “The last shall be first and the first shall be last.” It was the theme of the aforementioned Swept Away and earlier classics like Lord of the Flies (1963). We’ve heard it all before. It’s been done. And it’s been done much better.
I’ll spare the Twilight Zone spoiler of an ending, but you’ll recognize it when you see it, and you’ll see it coming a mile away. Beyond that, the ending is left dangling with the intention of generating further discussion on the ride home from the theater.
It’s not an ending that you will ponder much beyond that.
Early in the film, we discover that the Triangle of Sadness that the title refers to is the little triangle that forms between one’s eyes when someone is sad. I’m not sure I was ever aware of that or whether it was made up.
But I’m pretty sure that one popped up on my brow when the end credits rolled.
Now I know what to call it.
Triangle of Sadness is in theaters now.