'Don't Worry Darling' review: Don't worry, it's good, darling
Courtesy of Warner Bros.
The walls are cracking inside Olivia Wilde’s Hitchcockian thriller “Don’t Worry Darling,” a film that’s equal parts an homage to sci-fi staples “The Stepford Wives” and “The Matrix” and ingenious comedies like “The Truman Show.” Wilde’s fuzzy fever dream offers an ambitiously dense trip into 1950s nirvana; embedded with an ace performance from Florence Pugh who quite literally carries the movie on her shoulders. While much has been made surrounding the film's behind the scenes drama, creating one the weirdest press cycle’s in recent memory (spitgate will forever live in infamy), “Don’t Worry Darling” is richer and more engaging than what the tabloids would suggest, sculpting a woeful tale around estrangement, entrapment, and suffocation.
Wilde’s first feature film, an uproarious R-rated teen comedy called “Booksmart,” showed a filmmaker with major blockbuster potential if allowed the chance. Now working with a sizable budget and a studio upgrade (again standing alongside previous screenplay collaborator Katie Silberman who shares story credits with Carey and Shane Van Dyke), Wilde has a much bigger narrative playpen; And with its lush cinematography by Oscar nominee (“Black Swan”) and frequent Spike Lee mainstay Matthew Libatique, lavish production design and glistening, “Jetsons” meets “WandaVision” energy, “Don’t Worry Darling” should produce plenty of interesting think pieces, and water cooler conversations. The more you unravel and tinker; the easier it becomes to dial in.
Then there’s Harry Styles, last seen, acting wise, as part of the “Dunkirk” ensemble, a modern day rockstar/heartthrob carefully controlling the trajectory of his acting career. Poor guy never stood a chance against the avalanche that is Florence Pugh, but he manages to hold his own despite some odd performance choices. He conveys serious emotions and the former “One Direction” frontman gets style points for even trying to stand on the same battlefield as his far more seasoned co-stars. In other words, it could’ve been worse.
He plays Jack alongside Pugh’s Alice, the two are mad about each other and barely find time to enjoy breakfast or dinner without tearing their clothes off. They live in an immaculate, inclusive, and one-a-kind “experiment” nicknamed the Victory Project, overseen by a posh and seductive guru named Frank (Chris Pine - absolutely making a meal out of his monologues). Alice and Jack are the envy of everyone who lives inside this grand “project,” which is disguised as some idyllic suburbia where the women stay home to cook and clean while the strapping young husbands, fulfilling their civic duties, report for work at Victory headquarters.
Everyone’s a winner and financially stable in Victory, nobody worries or stresses and everyone parties and sports pristine wardrobes and have modeled homes straight out of a catalog. How did these people get so lucky? What is their purpose? Those are exactly the questions Alice begins asking following a string of hallucinatory episodes triggered by events involving Jack, his shady boss and their “development of progessive materials.” As Alice slowly peaks through the looking glass, her entire reality begins to crumble, and realizations about why nobody can travel outside town limits and how their lifestyles are eerily similar begin to cast a hazy focus on what Victory is actually doing. The result might just surprise you. It surprised me.
Wilde, who also stars as Alice’s peppy next-door neighbor Bunny, clearly made “Don’t Worry Darling”
as the passion project she envisioned (and reminisces back to a time when the industry could reliably produce commercial adult thrillers). Wilde’s panache is well suited for the big ideas explored in this sprawling, $35 million budgeted venture and it proves, artistically and technically, her debut wasn’t a fluke. The fundamental assertions on gender norms, victim shaming and gaslighting are deeply ingrained throughout the movie and John Powell’s powerful score goes a long way at maintaining that sense of dread teased from the first frame to the unforgettable final shot. Everything holds together.
Yet, “Don’t Worry Darling” will likely be judged not by the quality of the performances or the atmospheric haze of Palm Springs (it’s never looked this crisp on film), but by the final twist of the knife and whether or not you can believe in it. Even if the movie might be contained by its own mind games, at least you have the other elements (did I mention how great Pugh and Pine played off each other?) to steer it back on solid ground. No need to worry, Darling. The movie is good.
DON’T WORRY DARLING is now playing in theaters.