Don’t Worry Darling is possibly the most talked about movie of the year, but for all the wrong reasons. Olivia Wilde’s follow-up as a director after her blazing debut with Booksmart has had nothing but difficulties, from the firing (or was that quitting) of star Shia LaBeouf, clashes between director and star, Wilde receiving court papers during a promotional tour to the now infamous “spitgate” incident during the Venice Film Festival. All this before the film’s release. Now it has arrived, does it eclipse the heights of its notoriety? Well, not really.
Alice and Jack live in the idyllic surrounds of Victory. In this near-perfect community, the husbands drive the finest collection of cars from the 50s/60s in their finest, sharpest suits leaving their wives to tend the home and spend their free time shopping, at the pool or in ballet classes. Everyone seems happy in this world, and all look up to Frank, a man who runs Victory and has a mysterious hold over everyone. Yet something doesn’t sit right for Alice when one of her female friends starts acting strange after venturing out into the desert, a place forbidden for women, and Alice believes that this world is not what they all thought it was.
Wilde’s film is full of atmosphere and attention to detail. The production design is incredible, with nothing seeming out of place in this utopia. Brightly lit and with beautiful cinematography, this is an ambitious movie that seems far too much for the difficult second album. Praise must go to Wilde for attempting something wildly different compared to Booksmart. It would have been too easy for another female-led teen comedy. Instead, we have a female-led psychological drama/thriller. Sadly, this film is brimming with ideas about masculinity and how women are perceived, about love, secrets and deceit, yet it’s all muddled in an apparent plot.
The problem is that it reminds you of far too many other movies, from The Truman Show to the most obvious comparison, The Stepford Wives. This is a world where the men rule and the women are nicely dressed and forced to stay at home. The men are the breadwinners but aren’t allowed to talk about what they do. You know that this world is artificial, and as you watch Alice going through the motions of getting to the bottom of what is happening, you find yourself waiting for the twist, which sadly is the movie’s main problem as it is far too obvious.
That’s not to say there is nothing to enjoy here. Wilde throws in some well-executed set pieces and handles a car chase in the desert for aplomb, which could see her next movie being an action flick (she has said she would be interested in directing a Fast & Furious film). It has flashes of Ken Russell, with scenes of hallucination that wouldn’t look out of place in Altered States. One scene between Alice and Frank and the dinner party after that, where Alice throws out accusations, is incredibly gripping.
The performances, however, are a mixed bag. Olivia Wilde gets to play one of the neighbours and gives herself the less flashy role for a director. Gemma Chan, from Eternals and Channel 4’s Humans, seems to be falling into typecasting as the perfect wife of Frank. Chris Pine is devilishly slimy are the mysterious Frank, but sadly Harry Styles fails to impress as Jack. The problem is he doesn’t have the acting chops of his fellow actors. With an accent that seems confused (is he American or British?), he tries his best, but he’s just not a leading man.
However, Florence Pugh is magnificent as Alice. She manages to keep your attention with another first-class performance for a film with little to care about. She is the heart of the film, and she doesn’t disappoint. Complex and constantly fascinating, she really does shine, but the chemistry between her and Styles is lacking. It’s the scene between herself and Pine that really does sparkle.
Don’t Worry Darling isn’t a total disaster. It does have some neat ideas, and watching Pugh is always a treat. But, sadly, I get the feeling that the escapades behind the scenes and outside of the film will stay in the memory longer than the movie itself.
3 out of 5
Director: Olivia Wilde
Starring: Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Olivia Wilde, Chris Pine, Gemma Chan, Kiki Layne, Nick Kroll, Kate Berlant
Written by: (also story) Katie Silberman, (story) Carey Van Dyke and Shane Van Dyke
Running Time: 122 mins
Release date: 23rd September 2022