New films from Ruben Östlund (Force Majeure) and Martin McDonagh (In Bruges) will make you laugh and think.
After a year short on laughs—in world affairs and at the cineplex—it’s welcome to have two excellent new comedies drop almost simultaneously.
Don’t let the title deter you. Triangle of Sadness had me laughing out loud more than any film since 2020’s Borat sequel. As an added bonus, it has the best comedic vomiting sequence since Monty Python’s Meaning of Life.
The films of Swedish director Ruben Östlund have been must-watch events for me since his 2014 drama Force Majeure. In that film, a family tries to recover after the dad abandons his wife and two children as an avalanche threatens their outdoor table at a ski chalet. 2017’s The Square, a send-up of the contemporary art world, was more comedic, but always of the squirmy variety.
Winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes, Triangle of Sadness is Östlund’s most overtly entertaining film, delectably skewering the parasitic über-rich. It centers upon two young adults clinging to the periphery of this society, celebrity model Carl (Harris Dickinson) and his girlfriend Yaya (Charlbi Dean).
As a social media influencer, Yaya scored a free vacation for two on a luxury superyacht, where they rub shoulders with a Russian fertilizer magnate, a British arms dealer, and a lonely, leering app developer. Meanwhile, the self-loathing yacht captain (Woody Harrelson, delightful as always) hides in his cabin in an alcoholic stupor.
The yacht, obsequiously named Brilliant Minds, serves as a microcosm for capitalistic society. The passengers heedlessly dine on endangered sea life. The waitstaff, clad in spotless white and dimpled smiles, say yes to every request and jockey for the best tips. Below deck, the mostly non-white mechanics and janitors exist invisibly. (A man from the last group is summarily fired when Carl—an insecure Karen—complains he had the audacity to be shirtless while doing repairs under a withering sun.)
Like Östlund’s other films, Triangle of Sadness is never predictable, offering surprise after surprise. Without spoiling too much, I have two favorite sequences. The first is the aforementioned adventure in gastrointestinal distress, more outrageous with each passing minute. Filthy rich people puking and crapping themselves senseless filled my yearly schadenfreude quota.
The second is a drunken debate over the yacht’s microphone system between Harrelson’s Marxist captain and Dimitry, the fertilizer king. Hurling quotes from Lenin, Chomsky, Reagan, and Thatcher without listening to their opponent, it mirrors every online quarrel these days.
With one brief exception, Östlund’s film avoids preachiness, succeeding in the show, don’t tell mandate. It’ll have you laughing as you light Molotov cocktails for the upcoming socioeconomic revolution.
The Banshees of Inisherin is the darkest of comedies. By the second half, it’s all dark. For one of the year’s loveliest scores, Carter Burwell was going for a fairy tale vibe, and this film is Grimm indeed.
Once upon a time in 1923, on an island off the Irish mainland, Pádraic (Colin Farrell) and Colm (Brendan Gleeson) have been best friends for as long as anyone in their village can remember. But one day Colm refuses to come to the door when Pádraic knocks.
Over the next couple of days, we learn that Colm has decided Pádraic is so dull, he’s a liability to his musical efforts as fiddler and songwriter. (A two-hour monologue on his pony’s excrement was the final straw.) When Pádraic continues to violate his ex-friend’s mandate to stop speaking with him, Colm announces that with each subsequent breach, he’ll amputate one of his own fingers.
We observe the ripple effects of this rupture on the island. Pádraic’s bookish sister Siobhan (Kerry Condon) tries to make peace between them. Impressionable Dominic (Barry Keoghan) feels irreparably betrayed. A crone who looks as though she could be one of Macbeth’s Weird Sisters savors and feasts on the discord.
The somber themes of The Banshees of Inisherin stand in contrast to the stunning Irish coastal beauty, not to mention the lovely interiors of a world lit only by kerosene. It’s also a delight to see Farrell and Gleeson reunited. Though their characters are often at odds, they have a wonderful chemistry together, something we saw in writer/director Martin McDonagh’s earlier film, In Bruges.
Along with the conflict on their island, the people of Inisherin are close enough to see and hear evidence of the Civil War on the mainland. No doubt, the foolish self-destruction of the feud between Pádraic and Colm is meant to mirror the absurdity of the bigger conflict. One villager, in a bit of throwaway dialogue, says he can’t remember if he’s supposed to root for the Free Staters or the IRA.
More than this, McDonagh’s film speaks to the necessity of niceness for civil society to persist. We ask “how are you?” when we don’t much care, or do a tactful verbal dance when a friend asks if they were a bore at last night’s party. The masks decorating Colm’s cottage suggest he has cast these essential coverings aside, to the detriment of his community.
In their dark comedy and violence, all four of McDonagh’s films—including the Oscar-nominated Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri—point to the futile, immature feedback loop our strife engenders. The Banshees of Inisherin gives us repeat shots of farm animals gazing upon their human masters with incomprehension, as Colm’s border collie and Pádraic’s miniature donkey unfailingly bestow love. We have much to learn from the rest of the animal kingdom, don’t we?
(Both films are now in theaters.)