REVIEW: Don’t Worry Darling (2022)

Florence Pugh and Harry Styles star in Olivia Wilde’s second feature-length film as a director, DON’T WORRY DARLING — PHOTO: Warner Bros. Pictures.

Directed by Olivia Wilde (Booksmart) — Story by Carey van Dyke, Shane van Dyke, and Katie Silberman.

Whether by design (for marketing purposes) or not, Don’t Worry Darling has amassed one of the wildest behind-the-scenes on-and-off-set dramas in recent memory. Olivia Wilde’s sophomore effort as a director — following the hit teen comedy Booksmart — is one of the most talked about films this year, but ‘the talk’ isn’t about the film itself. It started with an embarrassing public disagreement about whether Shia LaBeouf was fired or if he left the project of his own volition (and a leaked video wherein Wilde tried to get LaBeouf back on board), but it snowballed into stories about on-set tension (alleged screaming matches between the director and her leading lady), internet sleuthing about whether or not Harry Styles spat on Chris Pine at one of the film’s premieres, and Olivia Wilde’s alleged absence from the set has even been compared to Boris Johnson’s rule-breaking COVID era behavior

It’s a lot of noise that is far more interesting than the film itself, honestly. But it is also true that certain male directors (and their films), which others have argued, have gotten away with even more questionable behavior. It’s a mess that may ultimately help the film at the box office (again, inadvertently or not), but I just wish the film was anywhere near as good or memorable as the behind-the-scenes drama surrounding it.

Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling mostly takes place in this a-little-too-perfect idyllic 1950s neighborhood in a company town known as ‘Victory.’ Each morning, housewives send their husbands to work, which is classified, and they do classic housewife activities while listening to the thoughts and teachings of Frank (played by Chris Pine), the cult-like founder of, and boss at, the ‘Victory Project’, on the radio. The film follows Alice Chambers (played by Florence Pugh), the young wife of up-and-coming Victory Project engineer Jack Chambers (played by Harry Styles), as she decides to go where no woman is supposed to go, starts to see strange visions, and starts to question what exactly is going on outside of the idyllic neighborhood.

What’s going on isn’t really anything particularly novel, truth be told, which is really what is so heartbreaking and frustrating about this movie. Because while the film has all the right features (and a neat premise) to make a successful trippy psychological thriller, the film ends up fumbling most of its big ideas since they are predictable, underexplained, and unoriginal. Olivia Wilde goes for something like a blend of The Stepford Wives and The Truman Show, and had her film focused a little bit more on making the film’s third act connect, then the film might’ve gone down more smoothly (there are a couple of head-scratching plot-holes that are difficult to ignore once the film has come to its conclusion). The thing is, the film doesn’t ever answer questions that you can’t already guess the answer to after the first act. In fact, it mostly raises more questions and then the film goes to the closing credits right as you’re desperate for the film to boldly go where it’d have to explore consequences. While I usually like these kinds of twists, the turn in Don’t Worry Darling feels underdeveloped and relatively hollow, and the film refuses to go in fresh directions.

But, again, there are so many elements in this film that actually work quite well. There’s some nice visual trickery (like blink-and-you-miss-it creepy glimpses through sharp editing) that makes your skin crawl, the production and costume designs are top-notch, the symmetry and bright colors work quite well, the soundtrack is good fun, and the score has some quite creepy tracks as well featuring female voices. But the stylish visions, as well as the way the community gaslights Alice, gets quite repetitive. The film doesn’t have as many tricks up its sleeves as its excellent trailer implied.

Most of the acting is also quite good. Florence Pugh, one of the best actors of her generation, carries the film with her dedicated powerhouse performance, even though she isn’t asked to do anything she hasn’t done well before. Chris Pine’s performance is equally well-tuned, as he captures the aura of a person who thinks the world revolves around him. He’s excellent. The same cannot be said for musician-turned-actor Harry Styles. Styles fails to add any depth to his relatively important character, and he isn’t able to match his co-stars. In spite of one very over-acted scene, his work isn’t actively film-ruining, as some early reactions seem to have suggested, but his performance is, at best, bland and, at worst, blank.

As a fan of her directorial debut, it gives me no pleasure to report that Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling is very much a sophomore slump. It’s a mixed bag. I can’t really recommend it as the final act is so underdeveloped (and doesn’t wrap itself up in a satisfying way), but there are several elements in this one that I like. While missed potential is frustrating, a competently made ambitious mess is much more interesting than a forgettable safe film. Unfortunately, the behind-the-scenes drama ended up being much more interesting than what the film had in store for its audience.

5.9 out of 10

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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