Don’t Worry Darling (2022) is Mostly Fine Despite Its Fiery Controversy
Title: Don’t Worry Darling
First Non-Festival Release: September 19, 2022 (Limited Theatrical Release)
Director: Olivia Wilde
Writer: Katie Silberman, Carey Van Dyke, Shane Van Dyke
Runtime: 123 Minutes
Starring: Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Chris Pine, Gemma Chan
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Alice (Florence Pugh) and Jack (Harry Styles) live in 1950s paradise community Newberry Springs. A doting housewife and elevated socialite, Alice spends her days listlessly adhering to all the things a great spouse is meant to do while enjoying the company of her equally perfect friends like Bunny (Olivia Wilde). The pillars of their community Frank (Chris Pine) and Shelley (Gemma Chan) take notice of the couple, for Jack’s drive at work and Alice’s discernment. Their lives are upended when Alice starts questioning the erratic behavior of her former friend Margaret (KiKi Layne) after she dies by suicide following a nervous breakdown.
Familiar yet well-intentioned, Don’t Worry Darling doesn’t quite work as the star vehicle it is meant to be but still delivers on tension.
Don’t Worry Darling serves as commentary on reactionary politics and gender roles in the guise of a twisty sci-fi horror dystopian thriller. When it is revealed that the grand revelation of Alice’s psychological torment is a convoluted virtual reality world where men leave every day to work real world jobs so they can play dress up as 1950s workers, the film gets lost. The idea that modern day men would go to such lengths, imprisoning their wives in a high-tech device and brainwash them into being doting housewives, isn’t far-fetched in intention but the explanations for how it is supported is baffling. The need to over explain is evident, with much exposition getting dropped at the end to support the claims.
The twisty nature of story works and doesn’t at the same time beyond its conception. This world that is created by essentially a group of online radicals is plausible, in a sense that it could be created. The secrecy, however, is absurd. While the men who choose unwilling companions by abducting them off the street instead of trapping them in relationships might have less to worry about, the ones who choose their real-life partners must contend with reality. Considering they all work jobs to pay for the service and tend to their unconscious women companions, there is a huge leap of believability in a world where this can be pulled off in mass. Do they simply disappear from their friends, family, and other familiars without anyone questioning? That’s a huge pill to swallow.
Thankfully, the ideas of stripped agency and forced acceptance of gender roles are still engaging. The slow suffocation Alice feels throughout her time in Newberry Springs mimics the exact suburban desperation suffered by women during the actual period. Turning to vices, taking up hobbies to eat away at the time, and ultimately living for her husband becomes all that consume her. This pressure cooker feeling intensifies when Alice believes something is off and those closest to her refuse to believe her. This leans into the “hysterical women” trope but the gaslighting is employed strategically here to make way for her eventual rebellion.
Florence Pugh’s performance is the clear highlight in the film despite its middling plot. Imbuing a certain amount of fire underneath the doting housewife persona, Pugh manages to convey the complexities of Alice. The wonder bubbling beneath the surface is highlighted in lingering stares and casually harsh inflections. Alice isn’t meant to be there, and Pugh gives the audience so many clues before the story can try. Both Gemma Chan and Chris Pine give great performances as the sleek power couple that owns the social sphere of their close-knit community. The only sore spot is, unfortunately, Harry Styles who struggles to convey the heavier emotions required of him. He does, however, shine when asked to play suave or the grungy. His range is there, but Don’t Worry Darling isn’t the quite right fit for his talents.
Another lovely feature of the film is its stunning production values. The tiny desert community looks incredibly realistic and lived in. Its perfection fits perfectly with the criticisms Don’t Worry Darling has regarding this outlook on life while interweaving with the overall story too. While most of the film focuses on the more suffocating feeling of being trapped, oftentimes accompanied by intense close-up visuals meant to unnerve the audience, the final twenty minutes or so breaks free to give one last shot of adrenaline to the already tense script. The open desert car chase is not only engaging but manages to tie in many of the film’s themes concurrently.
Nothing revelatory, Don’t Worry Darling is an entertaining social sci-fi horror film that relies too heavily on its premise to spark conversation. Focusing too much of twists without developing its story, it lags in pacing due to its unwieldy focus on explaining how Victory works. Pugh’s screen presence is as electric as ever and most of her co-stars match her pitch perfect ability to make a scene truly compelling. Sadly, a mostly fine performance by Styles doesn’t match this energy bringing down the overall effect of the film. For fans looking for something conscious of gender roles in society, especially in today’s climate, and dizzying yet beautiful imagery, there is plenty to enjoy in this sophomore effort from Olivia Wilde.
Overall Score? 6/10