Don’t Worry Darling has arrived amidst a frenzy of attention paid to everything but the film itself. While cultural osmosis dictates that we are all well aware of the behind-the-scenes drama, (without even seeking it out in the first place), many questioned whether it was all a part of the plan. Nevertheless, it has arrived and based on the tensions present on the publicity tour, the film promises to be something for the ages. It will enthral based on the drama on-screen as opposed to what happened away from it… right?
Don’t Worry Darling is centred on Alice and Jack, played by Florence Pugh and Harry Styles respectively, and their lives in Victory. Victory is an isolated town in the California desert controlled by one company, and one man behind it. Frank is their leader both spiritually and practically. His voice dominates the radio airwaves and his deification leaks from the screen. All of the men aspire to be in his presence and gush about him either in or out of his shadow. The men are the sole breadwinners while the lives of their wives are spent cleaning, cooking, and waiting for them to come home. The production design nails its aesthetic but feels like a facade of transparency. Sometimes the women meet poolside, or whilst shopping to ponder why they cannot discuss their husband’s careers. Sometimes they say things that only serve to move the plot along in glaringly revealing ways. The plot here is a road most travelled. While there is always room for inventiveness, the film opts for an intrinsically shallow and unimaginative take instead.
Don’t Worry Darling reunites Olivia Wilde directing a screenplay from Katie Silberman after the success of their enjoyable comedy Booksmart. Given it is Wilde’s sophomore film, the pressure feels escalated given the perpetual social media publicity enveloping it. The decision to turn to a psychological thriller is compelling and provides a space for Wilde to venture into the unknown with what is, essentially, a blank slate. Such creative freedom is proving a rarer find in Hollywood as the years go by and it can be an insurmountable task to achieve what you want from it. This over-ambition, however, is what ultimately leads to the film’s failing.
Don’t Worry Darling is a film suffocated by its own self-importance. The film is draped in pompousness but at the same time behaves so transparently nonsensical that it amounts to a tremendously expensive Twitter thread. Themes are introduced and thrown onto the table but never dissected or expanded upon. It believes it has a lot to say about the heteronormative world that it inhabits, but it is so artificial in its approach that it is groan-inducing. Simply introducing a theme does not make you a part of the conversation. If someone walked up to you in the street and shouted: “the domestication of women… huh?!”, you would gain some insight into what this film was trying to achieve in a fraction of the run-time.
Don’t Worry Darling blends cult of personality mindsets with real-world issues in a way that feels transparent and distasteful. There are characters based on real people (who really don’t need the publicity) but are given spotlight and handled in an excruciatingly simplistic manner. It is equally offensive to all genders which becomes more evident as it limps to its end credits. The very genre that this film belongs to is one that relies on tension as its lifeblood. Any and all tension that could be built upon is evaporated by its repetitively weak storytelling. Many moments in the film suffer by the decision to hammer in a needless metaphor well past the point of no return. Audiences are intelligent enough to know when they are being spoken down to.
Florence Pugh puts in another fantastic performance as Alice, a woman who grows disillusioned with her world and sets out to seek the truth. She injects charisma and instills in Alice a sense of authenticity that feels lacking from the rest of the film. On paper, it is exceedingly difficult to imagine another actor in the role who could capture what Pugh evokes, especially considering the substandard material.
Harry Styles plays her husband Jack and if you were expecting either revelation or cataclysm, you may be disappointed. Styles is certainly miscast and flounders alongside Pugh. Beyond that however is an underwritten and poorly guided character. His function in the film is essentially appearing as a part of the furniture, except when needed for an emergency sex scene. He can look suave in a suit but when you give him dialogue of any emotional level, it is apparent that he is in the wrong place here. Pairing him up with Pugh is only asking for trouble. His charm is fruitless in the face of the material he is working with. Jack is a proxy through which the film attempts to communicate the issues of the world as it sees it. However, the lens through which the film seems to view the world seems reactionary and misguided. Moreover, it is a difficult thing to place its target audience. It feels out of touch no matter how frame it.
Don’t Worry Darling’s supporting characters and actors are casualties of its overreach. Chris Pine elevates the material he is given to such an extent that it boggles the mind to see him so underused. Frank is a character shoehorned into a two-dimensional space, but Pine manages to inject malevolence as well as charm when allowed. Gemma Chan plays his wife but is barely given a character. Authoritative and ice-cold, by the end she is emblematic of the film’s nonsensical story. Olivia Wilde herself generously plays the perpetual cigarette-holding Bunny, a neighbour who seems to know more than she lets on. There is a semblance of a journey within her up until the film reveals itself. Oh, to see audience reactions when that third act hits… it gives new meaning to mediocrity. The film abandons all logic and chooses instead to make up its own for the purpose of satisfying… who knows? Nobody can watch the final minutes and argue that anyone benefits from how certain characters seemingly transform for no reason whatsoever.
Don’t Worry Darling is a film that calls attention to itself and has nothing to show for it. It has a “twist” that any discerning viewer could decipher within minutes. It extinguishes any form of tension by relying on stylistic flourishes that only serve to make Wilde appear to favour vanity over self-control. Pugh puts in a terrific performance, but the film uses her as a crutch. The film is an exercise in eye rolling.
In saying all of this, what will the end result be? People will still see it. Not because of the film itself, however. They will watch it to satiate their desire for the off-screen drama. Will this make it a success? This writer has enough faith in people to hope not… but expects disappointment nonetheless.