“There is beauty in control. There is grace in symmetry. We move as one.”
“Don't Worry Darling” is the sophomore effort from director Olivia Wilde after the wildly entertaining “Booksmart.” Stylized and at times derivative, it is a warped movie with a higher purpose that unfortunately doesn’t quite stick the landing. Billed as an ultra-feminist story that tends to go off the rails, "Don't Worry Darling” has a messy script and misaligned performances that contribute to its utter downfall.
And yet, it’s not that bad.
Set in a utopian town in the 1950s, Alice Chambers (Florence Pugh) lives an idyllic life with her husband Jack (Harry Styles). Having no kids of their own, the two eagerly await Jack’s return from home each afternoon to dance in their living room and fornicate until the sun comes up. They throw lavish parties with their neighbors (Olivia Wilde and Nick Kroll), as their cul-de-sac represents the golden times of a bygone era. Each morning, the wives of this experimental borough make their husbands breakfast, wave them goodbye as they leave in their souped-up convertibles for work at The Victory Project, then take the day to wash windows and go shopping. It’s a perfect life filled with a sense of community and believing that you are making the world a better place.
But underneath all of that picturesque facade is a hellish underbelly that’s waiting to be unleashed. Chris Pine plays Frank, a cult-like leader of The Victory Project who is just as mysterious as he is commanding. Every man living there works for Frank, and their mission is shrouded in secrecy from their wives. Their lovely Palm Springs-esque desert town relies on this secrecy, and no woman should ever venture off outside of the confines of the town if she knows what’s good for her. After all, women represent their husbands, and their behavior reflects poorly on the men in town.
Events begin to unravel when Alice’s simple daydreams about what life outside of Victory would be like turn into delusions of epic proportions. Mirrors and windows become unfriendly to Alice as they distort her reality, especially when she stumbles upon Victory’s highly classified headquarters and doesn’t know what to do with the information presented to her. She progressively loses her mind as the chaos around her seems to be closing in with every move she makes. At some point, I almost thought someone would yell out the question, “What’s outside of Pleasantville?!” as they harken back to another film that clearly inspired much of the dialogue in "Don't Worry Darling".
To say that "Don't Worry Darling" is original is ridiculous. The main problem with the film is that the screenplay by “Booksmart” writer Katie Silberman is incredibly artificial and uninspired. We’ve seen ten movies that are remarkably similar to this one, most of them a bit funnier and more uplifting with the themes they strive for. The big reveal towards the end of "Don't Worry Darling" is not deserved and is glaringly obvious from the first frame of the film. It’s cliched at best, complete with the 1960s rendition of Skeeter Davis’ “The End of the World” blasting in almost every scene like many films in the genre have done before.
The issues with "Don't Worry Darling" stem primarily from the script but mainly because the devoted housewife slowly going crazy trope has been done too many times in movies like “The Stepford Wives.” Wilde’s direction is pretty remarkable in this film, despite the tonal shifts that occur like rapid fire. Florence Pugh and Chris Pine are masters in their roles, throwing bad dialogue to the side as they play a cat-and-mouse game for the viewers. Harry Styles’ abilities as an actor are better with this character than his incredibly flat performance in “My Policeman,” although Jack is not a person worth spending any time with. He’s ultimately weak in moments when he should be anything but that, and Styles can’t carry the heavy lift during the dramatic transitions of Jack’s personalities.
"Don't Worry Darling" isn’t a bad psychological thriller. It merely crumbles under the weight of its own mediocrity.
Ticket Rating: 🎟🎟1/2