DON’T WORRY DARLING
FILM REVIEW: DON’T WORRY DARLING
Release Date: 23rd September 2022
Directed by: Olivia Wilde
Cast: Florence Pugh, Chris Pine, Harry Styles, Gemma Chan
Screenplay by: Katie Siberman
Cinematography: Matthew Libatique
``almost hits the mark``
After the success of her first movie, the brilliantly funny and effortlessly charming Booksmart, Olivia Wilde could have easily followed a similar pattern for her follow-up. Although Don’t Worry Darling reunites Wilde with Booksmart’s screenwriter Katie Silberman, she has tried something different for her second go in the director’s chair. This psychological thriller with sci-fi elements has very lofty ambitions, and Wilde deserves credit for aiming high. To be fair, she almost hits the mark, only to fall at the final hurdle.
Don’t Worry Darling is set in a top secret experimental commune in the middle of the desert. Every morning the men of the “Victory Project” head off to work in snazzy sports cars to carry out non-specific, vaguely threatening work referred to as “the development of progressive material” under the watchful eye of the enigmatic Frank (Chris Pine). Like the rest of the women, Alice (Florence Pugh) scrubs the house from top to bottom, takes some ballet lessons in the afternoon, then cooks a big dinner and waits with a cocktail for her husband to arrive home. The good times are rolling and everyone is living out their best 1950s fantasies. But as you can probably guess, all is not what it seems in the Victory Project.
For the most part there’s a satisfying, threatening undercurrent of paranoia and foreboding. Don’t Worry Darling draws from a rake of wide-ranging influences that are all quite easy to pick out, from The Twilight Zone and The Stepford Wives, to The Truman Show, Pleasantville and even The Matrix. It should go without saying that yes, of course there’s a twist, and Pugh is subjected to some serious gaslighting. Alice is in a very similar situation to Midsommar’s Dani, so you could say that Pugh has form here.
The look is incredibly stylish and achingly hip, with peerless production and costume design. Visually, this is stunning. A lot of credit for that must go to cinematographer Matthew Libatique (Darren Aronofsky’s Mother!). With plenty of the ubiquitous god’s eye view aerial shot, Don’t Worry Darling certainly is not short of striking imagery. Unfortunately, it all turns out to be as hollow and empty as the eggs in Alice’s fridge.
Of course Pugh is incredible, but then I can’t recall an instance when she wasn’t. Despite her best efforts, she is badly let down by the script here. At a specific point in the movie, you can almost see her talent and ability diverge from the quality of the material that she’s been burdened with. Pugh doesn’t so much carry the movie as stick it under her arm and stroll away with it. Bar perhaps Chris Pine, she is in a completely different league to everyone else involved.
To his credit, Pine is an actor who elevates and improves the quality of everything he’s involved with. But what of Styles? Can the boy act? Well… ish. In all honesty, Styles is fine, just as he was in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk (although that role didn’t require acting as much as reacting). He certainly looks the part here, but it must be said that his lack of experience and aptitude let him down during some of the movie’s key scenes. Although pitting him against Pugh is not really a fair fight, like making a dog play chess with Garry Kasparov.
The major problem with Don’t Worry Darling is the big reveal, which is really quite stupid. When we eventually discover the secret beneath the Victory Project, it is so absurd that you may regret bothering with any of this in the first place. The targets that Wilde takes aim at are not sophisticated ones. They are low hanging fruit. It’s not deep, or clever, or thought-provoking. The tragedy of Don’t Worry Darling is that it thinks it is.