It seems every year the Academy of Motion Arts and Sciences (aka, the Oscars) nominates at least one film in the best picture category that I find to be, what I call, an “odd choice.” An “odd choice” is a movie on the list of nominees that doesn’t make much sense. Either it’s not a very good movie, it received terrible reviews from critics, or it wasn’t popular with filmgoers. You know it’s an odd choice when you see it on the list and go, “wha?”
2022’s “odd choice” for me was Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast, a film that got lukewarm-at-best reviews from critics and wasn’t well-known to general audiences. It wasn’t readily available on streaming then, so I skipped it. I might check it out at some time in the future, but I’m not interested right now, as there’s little-to-no discussion around the film. 2021’s odd choice was Promising Young Woman. I really enjoyed that movie, but I’m in the minority. Carey Mulligan’s performance was fantastic, and the film had an incredibly tense storyline, but I didn’t feel it was “best picture” worthy. While it was one of my favorite films of the year, placing it next to Mank and Minari felt weird to me. Triangle of Sadness was this year’s odd choice, in my opinion. I am unfamiliar with the work of Ruben Otlund, the film’s director. I know he’s a big deal in certain circles, having directed the much-praised The Square and Force Majeure, but I have never seen those films. Without that context, it was a surprise when this nearly three hour comedy film was nominated. I became interested when I learned it was Otlund’s English-language debut. I needed to see what all the hype was about, so I watched it almost as soon as it got released on Hulu. I’m not sure I understood the hype.
The film is separated into three acts. The first is “Carl and Yaya,” which documents the titular characters’ rocky relationship. Carl is a male model, and Yaya is a social media influencer. This section explores that dynamic. After an uncomfortable dinner, Yaya explains that she doesn’t really love Carl. She’s only in a relationship with him because it gets her a lot of engagement on social media. Carl expresses that he wishes she would love him – – he doesn’t want her to be his trophy wife. Instead, he tells her that his goal is to make her love him in a heartwarming scene. This is the best part of the movie, but it only gets worse from here.
The second act is called “The Yacht.” Yaya and Carl get invited to a costly cruise for free. On the cruise are a bunch of billionaires, the top 1%, and it’s clear that the main couple is out of place. The characters that get introduced on the boat are underdeveloped. I would’ve loved for them to be fleshed out more. Little time is spent on the guests who aren’t Carl and Yaya. The third act becomes more character-heavy, which makes this flaw very obvious. Due to the lack of polished characters, it’s a slog. You don’t care what will happen to these guests, because they seem like jerks anyway.
The guests then get invited to a very fancy dinner. Earlier in the movie, the main chef warned the manager that the food had gone bad, but the manager ignored him. After dinner, a massive storm hits, and at the same time, the guests all start feeling/getting sick. That’s when I felt this film needed a content warning; this scene was quite disgusting. It’s well filmed and seemed realistic, but it was too realistic. It may make you throw up if you’re not in the right headspace. During this scene, two guests begin having a capitalism and communism debate amongst each other. Their minds are closed because of their status in the world, but they act like it’s a genuine discussion. They do this over an intercom while all the guests are getting sick, and the way this scene is put together feels artificial. There’s one point where the camera cuts back to the debate. The one arguing for communism makes his point while looking straight into the camera – – it presents itself as if it was effective, but it just comes off as pretentious.
The third act is called “The Island,” where the movie falls off for me. I was enjoying the rest, I guess, but at this point, it became the generic “rich people are unable to adapt to bad situations” storyline, which was jarring. The rest of the movie was so original, so unique (if half-baked), only for it to become one of the hundreds of other pieces of media that have been released of this nature. In 2022 there was an abundance of this storyline (see: The White Lotus, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, and debatably Spin Me Round.) I’m not sure why it was so common last year, but it seemed to be a new sub-genre that might be a mainstay from here on out. Triangle of Sadness was unsuccessful at doing this. It was very pompous and wasn’t nearly as deep as I thought. I thought Glass Onion was better; that film was more focused, genuinely funnier, and had better commentary. I felt The White Lotus had better characters that were more fleshed out, which made it more engaging. I thought Spin Me Round had a more entertaining storyline and robust backbone.
This movie was over the place. It wasn’t really a character drama about two wealthy people in an unsteady relationship, it wasn’t a satire poking fun at the top 1%, and it wasn’t really a “shipwrecked” story similar in vein to that of Cast Away. I can’t define the story it was trying to tell. I felt it was trying to do too much; it needed to pick a lane and stick to it. I really enjoyed where it was going with Carl and Yaya’s dynamic. Still, it didn’t stay focused on it for the entirety of the runtime. In fact, it almost abandons the idea that two wealthy people could find love in each other altogether by the end. It gets so off track that they almost didn’t conclude that aspect of the movie. Similarly, the ending was a big disappointment. I understood what it was trying to say, but it felt too ridiculous, almost unrealistic.
The more you think about this movie, the worse it becomes. It’s somewhat fun at the moment, but I felt it was too long, unfocused, and needed to define itself better. There were some incredible sequences and hilarious moments, and all the technical aspects were fantastic. It had my favorite cinematography of the year (other than Tar), and the acting was superb. But the storyline doesn’t come together at all and becomes a mess. It will likely give the viewer whiplash due to its constantly-changing tone. The scenes of everybody getting sick were grotesque and not in a good way. The long runtime wasn’t all that justified. It should not have been nominated for best picture. I would’ve picked Glass Onion over this if one of the two had to be considered.
I would not recommend this film. It’s too easy to critically break it apart because there are so many loose threads. Although, I didn’t absolutely hate my experience. This was probably because I appreciated the technical elements throughout its runtime. Ostland certainly knows what he’s doing in that regard. However, the story was a mess – – a bloated, pretentious, gloating disaster.