Neither as bad as you want it to be nor good as it wants to be, Don’t Worry Darling is ultimately a solid, if obvious thriller, that is certainly worth your time. Ignore the wonky press tour (which I personally believe is the result of a spontaneous on-set orgy that left everyone feeling weird about one another) and just enjoy the thrills and style. Whatever you have to say about Olivia Wilde (I think she’s cool), there’s no denying that she’s a thoughtful, energized filmmaker. In the case of her latest, she takes a respectably huge swing. It’s a line drive to second, all told, but she’s got a grand slam in her that I don’t want to miss.
Don’t Worry Darling takes place in the town of Victory, California. It’s an experimental living situation run by a powerful businessman (Chris “Best Chris” Pine). Existence is idyllic if you’re into 1950s chic. The mores are dated as well: in Victory, the men go to work every day in their classic convertibles, while the women housekeep, cook, and, when all is done, take the trolley downtown to do some shopping. At night it’s dancing and cocktails. All seems pretty peaceful overall, despite the brewing frustrations of our protagonist Alice (Florence Pugh), mostly stemming from her growing disinterest in her daily grind. Isn’t there more?
That right there is a question. In Victory, the questions should be left up to no one. Don’t ask em. In fact the following passage is written on every surface of public transportation:
What you see here
What you do here
What you hear here
Let it stay here*
But one day Alice wanders away from her routine and discovers that Victory might not be the sorta-paradise it appears to be. And when those around her start acting aggressive in the name of the status quo, she must use her wits to figure out how to proceed.
It’s a hard movie not to spoil in a plot sense, even if the reveal doesn’t ultimately matter. Don’t Worry Darling’s big problem comes from its big plot: the WHY of its all is so apparent outright that by the time the HOW of it all comes into play, it’s weightless, adding only to plot and not at all to theme. Midway though the film, a fantastic dinner sequence involving Alice and Chris Pine’s Frank threatens to kick off an extremely interesting act, but this thread is abandoned almost immediately. Still, even with these shortcomings in play, the film finds its hook through its characters. The more we learn about Alice and her friends/family/neighbors, the more we care about her well-being and what it might mean for other characters under threat.
Pugh, as always, is fantastic, outclassing pretty much everyone around her. Harry Styles, as her husband, is fine. Neither great nor terrible — merely a victim of “no matter what he does, people gonna hate.” He’s fine and he’ll probably get better and I’m here for it. It’s hard to look good when you’re acting alongside Pugh and Pine. Oh and Wilde herself plays a small character who is good for a lot of laughs and a few super intense moments. Nick Kroll doesn’t get to do much here, but it’s just so nice to see him in stuff.
Wilde once again directs with a high energy that only intermittently falls of the visual rails, but it’s an “early filmmaker” problem if there ever was one. There is no denying that she’s got a vision worth realizing. Short of a few dizzying conversational scenes and a generally speedy edit, Don’t Worry Darling is quite a sight to behold, sturdily shot and powerfully staged. Even if the thematic weight hasn’t much stuck with me, many of the images have.
Hopefully the absolutely ridiculous press tour discourse won’t damage this highly entertaining flick. Even if it doesn’t quite make it across the finish line, I’ll take a hearty, strange attempt at something new over a pre-packaged chunk of content any day of the week.
*Once you know what’s going on, this detail becomes nonsensical.
Directed by Olivia Wilde
Written by Katie Silberman, Carey Van Dyke, Shane Van Dyke
Starring Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Chris Pine, KiKi Lane
Rated R, 122 minutes