Perhaps you've heard of "Don't Worry Darling"? It's hard to have not heard about it, as it's been dominating headlines for all the wrong reasons over the past month. From "spit-gate" between Harry Styles and Chris Pine, to Florence Pugh not doing press for the film, to friction between director Olivia Wilde and allegedly "fired" actor Shia LaBeouf. It then debuted at the Venice Film Festival to mixed reviews, with many critics applauding the performance of Florence Pugh, but attacking the performance of Harry Styles, and the film as a whole.
Having now seen it, I can accept all sides of the argument. Yes, Florence Pugh is great. Yes, the film itself is a cluttered, unfocused mess at times. Yes, Olivia Wilde's direction seems a bit too artsy for her own good. I will push back though, on the performance of Styles, who I found to be better than just fine, heck, he was effective. Sure, he may not be on the same level as Pugh, but his role didn't demand that he needed to be.
At any rate, "Don't Worry Darling" is a movie that will polarize audiences. But that's also usually a good sign, that a movie was able to ignite some level of passion from its audience, for good or for bad.
But despite its many, many flaws, I found there to be a LOT going on under the hood. Themes of feminism, masculinity and control. Systemic issues that churn out desperate individuals, who will buy into almost anything that promises a better way. The idea of individualism, gender roles and boundaries. Even some deeply buried political messages.
"Don't Worry Darling" isn't a throw-away thriller. It has meaning and purpose, even if its execution is way off, sometimes jarringly so. And it's definitely a movie that should spark conversation on the car ride home, whether you loved it or loathed it.
All is seemingly fine and dandy in the town of Victory. We are somewhere in the 1950s, where women were expected to keep a tidy house and have a drink ready when the man returned home from a long day's work. Work isn't discussed at the house, and a wife is always pining for her husband who is endlessly attractive in all ways. Ah, it was a better, simpler time then.
We meet Alice (Pugh) and her husband Jack (Styles) in the midst of a tremendously fun party at their lush home. Their neighbors Bunny (Wilde) and Dean (Nick Kroll) are among their guests, and they haven't got a care in the world.
That is, until one resident of Victory, Margaret (KiKi Layne), begins to act strange. She is shouting out strange things, urging people to leave Victory, and it has an effect on Alice, who begins having weird visions and sensations of feeling trapped, drowning, or literally having the walls close in on her. Perhaps not everything is as it seems in Victory.
Frank (Chris Pine) is the boss, a man that is highly regarded yet leading a mysterious company that nobody seems to know anything about. Men want to be him and women want to be with him. He does have a strong-willed wife, Shelley (Gemma Chan), but Alice can't quite figure out Frank's deal.
To say more about the plot would be to spoil the story. Alice becomes entangled in a psychological thriller, complete with some big reveals and major revelations as it spirals towards a completely unpredictable ending.
After the movie starts off strong, it sort of lags in the middle third, before picking up and sprinting towards its finish. A scene late in the film at a dinner table, where Alice goes toe-to-toe with Frank, is among the film's best scenes, and it highlights the great performances from not only Pugh, but from Pine as well. Everything from the production design to the hair and makeup is spot-on, and despite the film's mixed reception, "Don't Worry Darling" still should be ever-present during the awards season in all of these categories.
Unfortunately, the film is bogged down with Wilde's need for symbolism, as if she doesn't think Pugh can sell us alone on her paranoia without the added effects of seemingly unconnected imagery. We get black-and-white dancers, close-ups of eyeballs, and a variety of other shots sprinkled throughout the film...none of which are ever fully explained or make much sense. In addition to this, it takes way too long to get to the film's reveal, and once it does, there are more than a few head-scratching actions made by the characters inhabiting this strange town.
If there was off-camera strife between Pugh and Wilde, it doesn't show in the performances. Pugh is interesting enough to hold our interest and ground us in her character's journey. Styles is effective as her loving husband, and Pine plays this sort of mysterious slime-ball better than most. The supporting players are a bit undercooked but so is most of what's presented.
"Don't Worry Darling" gets an A for effort in trying to wrap all of its themes together, even if its execution is more like a C. It's like "The Stepford Wives" meets "Black Mirror," and as jumbled and distracting as it indefensibly is, it was just good enough to recommend...especially when you hold it up to other less-ambitious films of its genre.
In the film, Frank talks about the idea of organized chaos, and how "chaos" is the enemy of "progress." Maybe the point of the movie is to say that a little bit of chaos is good once in a while, to wake people up from the prisons they've been living in.
Genre: Thriller, Drama, Mystery.
Run Time: 2 hours 2 minutes.
Starring: Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Olivia Wilde, Chris Pine, KiKi Layne, Gemma Chan, Nick Kroll, Timothy Simons.
Directed by Olivia Wilde ("Booksmart").
"Don't Worry Darling" is in theaters on Friday, September 23rd, 2022.
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