The best movie involving a boat since “Titanic” with the best vomiting sequence since “Team America: World Police,” Ruben Östlund’s “Triangle of Sadness” is an energetic and wacky examination of class, gender norms and culture, woven into a dynamite script. After debuting at Cannes, Östlund’s English-language debut will finally introduce the Swedish writer and director to more mainstream American audiences, and possibly even Oscar voters.
The film tells the story of Carl (Harris Dickinson) and Yaya (Charlbi Dean), two fashion models and a celebrity couple who in three narrative chapters explore their roles in each other’s lives — following a dinner date, a luxury cruise and a shocking x-factor that presents an interesting turn of events.
There are two noteworthy aspects to the dark comedy that are low-hanging fruit for Academy Awards attention. The original script by Östlund, with its whimsical premise, harnesses the type of engaging qualities that the Oscars have recognized before (i.e., “Nightcrawler” and “Dirty Pretty Things”). Despite a social commentary that some may feel is over-pronounced, it stands a real chance at not just receiving Oscar attention, but perhaps even winning the Cannes screenplay prize, also known as Prix du scénario. Past recipients of the award that mimic a film like “Triangle” include “The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017) by Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou and “Leviathan” (2014) by Andrey Zvyagintsev and Oleg Negin.
Östlund is former Palme d’Or winner for “The Square,” but only eight filmmakers have won twice, and even with revolving juries, it’s hard to walk away with the prize twice, especially with a few former winners also in the running like Cristian Mungiu (“RMN”).
The other awards-worthy point is the utterly lived-in and commanding performance of Dolly De Leon, a Filipina actress unknown Stateside, who could become a passionate contender. Playing Abigail, the toilet manager of the luxurious yacht, her small stature does not hold her back from becoming the acting giant of the sprawling tale. Her committed turn not only makes her the defining supporting performance of the year thus far, but also, if enough Academy members make a note to focus on quality (and not simply name recognition as they can often do), she could be the frontrunner walking into awards season. In supporting actress, only two Asian actresses have ever won the award (Miyoshi Umeki for “Sayonara” and Yuh Jung Youn for “Minari”). Wouldn’t it be amazing to see De Leon, in addition to Michelle Yeoh, a leading actress contender for A24’s “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” make history for the AAPI community, who are too often ignored?
Woody Harrelson, who is the biggest name attached, brings all his quintessential charm and effortless commitment. His role is smaller than many would assume, and in a two and a half hour epic, where his part is smack in the middle, it could prove to be a challenge on the circuit. However, with three career Oscar nominations (for “The People vs. Larry Flynt,” “The Messenger” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”), the overdue veteran narrative has worked wonders for past winners like Morgan Freeman, Alan Arkin and Robin Williams. He would likely need the film to be firmly in the best picture race. But is it?
The good news is the film could have mass appeal, for both international and American members, and even span many demographics. The more conservative voter may turn it off halfway through during one of the finest orchestrated puke and poop scenes in years. Others will be delighted with every ounce of satirical charm that it’s offering. Overall, this will be a word-of-mouth play that will need to steadily build through the season and have groups of voters discover it in pockets throughout. It would also be a great SAG ensemble nominee.
For Dickinson and Dean, who both bring so much pizzazz to their privileged, clueless influencer roles, a leading campaign seems far too crowded for such selections, but breakthrough prizes from regional critics will be more than warranted.
Straightforward contemporary movies like “Sadness” have difficulty in the artisan races but it’s worthy for consideration for editing by Östlund and Mikel Cee Karlsson (depending how you feel with the runtime) and cinematography by Fredrik Wenzel (giving a style, but still original take on a Wes Anderson joint).
Come for the discussion about who should pay the bill, stay for a boat crew that would put “Below Deck” to shame and fall in love with a new take on “Lord of the Flies” that you won’t soon forget.