January 7, 2023 – This movie starts and ends badly, but is brilliant in the middle. It started out so badly, that I gave up on it, but finally decided to finish watching it on another day. I'm glad I did finish watching it because some parts of it are hilarious.
The movie starts out by putting the spotlight on some truly hideous people, namely people in the fashion industry and people who make money simply because they look good. This is where the expression, “triangle of sadness” comes up, spoken by a revolting, officious nimrod whose job is to judge people by their looks alone. The only thing worse than people who are rich because of their looks, are people who are rich because they inherited wealth, and then have the gall to think they earned it.
The pretty boy fashion model from this first segment, Carl (played by Harris Dickinson of “Beach Rats”) and his influencer girlfriend, Yaya (Charlbi Dean of “Don't Sleep”) get free passage on a cruise aboard a $250 million yacht, along with a bunch of rich people, some of whom don't seem to have as much sense as a turnip. It is a true “Ship of Fools.”
All of this is played fairly straight, and I found these characters absolutely insufferable, but wait, it gets better. When Woody Harrelson shows up as the ship's reclusive, Marxist captain, Thomas, everything changes into a surrealistic “Gilligan's Island” ripoff comedy. Harrelson is the perfect guy to transform garbage melodrama into comedy gold, and he does that here.
Thomas refuses to host the “Captain's Dinner” on the ship on days when the weather is nice. Instead, he insists the dinner be set on same day as a raging storm. This, along with a ship wide work disruption (the idea of a wealthy guest) which seems to spoil the food, causes a hilarious chorus of projectile vomiting.
In most movies that feature vomiting, it amounts to nothing more than coughing. It's pathetic. Anyone who has been really sick in this way knows what real vomiting looks and sounds like. This movie has the best projectile vomiting I've ever seen. It is convincing, and very funny.
While most of the rich guests get seriously seasick, and perhaps sick from food poisoning as well, Thomas and rich Russian guest Dimitry (Zlatko Buric of “2012”) sit at a table getting drunk, but otherwise unaffected by the weather or the food. Thomas, a Marxist, recites anti-capitalist quotes to Dimitry, who replies with pro-capitalist quotes. The two also play drinking games during a surrealistic storm
Later, the two get on a ship-wide intercom system and make bizarre announcements to everyone on the ship. Dimitry tells everyone the ship is sinking, then says it is a joke, while Thomas spouts lame anti-government conspiracy theories. Meanwhile, nobody is steering the ship. People are huddled in hallways with life jackets, and the toilets are overflowing.
After the storm, pirates attack the ship and Clementine (Amanda Walker of “Cloud Atlas”) and her bomb-making husband, Winston (Oliver Ford Davies of “Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace”) get hoisted by their own petard, leading to the ship sinking. A few guests and a few crew members manage to get to a nearby shore, including Dimitry, Yaya, Carl, tech millionaire, Jarmo (Henrik Dorsin) and “toilet manager” Abigail (Dolly De Leon of “Verdict”).
Roles are reversed when Abigail realizes that she alone among the castaways knows how to find food and start a fire. She takes full advantage of this and forces everyone, including her boss, Paula (Vicki Berlin) to acknowledge her as the leader of the castaways. She even convinces weak-willed Carl to be her boy toy. She is the queen of this surrealistic roost of less than impressive characters.
This balance of power among the castaways is far from stable, however, for a variety of reasons, some of which are obvious from the beginning. The ending of the film is awkward and fails to achieve an actual conclusion. Ambiguous endings are fashionable these days, but this one feels like a screenplay bailout, and a cheat.
Writer and director Ruben Östlund, as he did in his earlier feature, “Force Majeure,” puts people into dangerous, stressful situations to predict how they react. He does the same thing here, only with a lot more absurd comic overtones.
In between the annoying first act and the annoying conclusion, however, this movie is gold (aside from the repulsive murder of a donkey). It rates a B. In a very sad note, the lovely Charlbi Dean, arguably the prettiest, sexiest, and nicest character in this movie, died of a bacterial infection shortly before this film was released.
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