The memes and weeks of news stories have finally amounted in something kind of resembling a movie! I will say that Don’t Worry Darling isn’t as bad as the reviews have told you. Really, it feels like critics are trying to one-up each other’s hate of the film. But speaking as someone who LOVED Olivia Wilde’s first film, Booksmart, it would be a lie if I didn’t address how much of an overly stylized, underwritten missed opportunity this film is. This film gets away from Wilde in spectacular fashion as this story goes on. When we cut to the end title card, someone in my theater audibly said “Seriously? That’s it?” And I can’t blame this person because that’s exactly what I was thinking.
Alice (Florence Pugh) and Jack (Harry Styles) live in the beautiful, impeccable company town of Victory, in the middle of the California desert, in the mid 1950s. Life in Victory seems perfect. Everyone lives in this beautiful, midcentury modern home, everyone has a gorgeous vintage car. The men go off to work in the morning, and the wives of course have to do housework, but other than that, they just kind of go shopping and go day-drinking with their girlfriends, and life is predictable and every day is kind of the same. That is, until Alice begins to suspect that something terrible is going on here.
Florence Pugh is of course, fantastic in this, and she’s the best thing in the movie by far. Of course, that line could refer to any Florence Pugh movie. She’s got such a forceful command of every single scene she’s in, and this performance is just as powerful as, say, her work in Midsommar – a similar movie, actually – in both films, people keep gaslighting Florence Pugh and she keeps trying to warn everyone, and nobody wants to listen. Florence Pugh always knows the truth, people! Why haven’t we learned this by now?!
And that brings me to Harry Styles. I will say that while Pugh’s chemistry with Styles is not as strong as it needs to be, I don’t think he’s bad here either. He’s just kind of outmatched by the better actors in the room. His character here isn’t meant to be much, he’s kind of the himbo paper doll here. He wears great suits and his hair has that great swoopy thing going on, and he immediately goes down on his wife in the kitchen when he gets home from work. He’s just kind of playing the idealized young husband, until he isn’t. He’s a bit stiff but I do think he handles the bigger moments well. I’ve seen critics and randos on Twitter ridicule clips that have circulated where his accent is wonky or his performance may not be totally convincing and I think that’s kind of unfair. I think he’s doing what this film needs from him, I’ve certainly seen worse musicians-turned-actors. He’s no Mariah Carey, he’s also no Lady Gaga.
Chris Pine plays Frank, the de facto villain who runs the company where all the men work. There is a spectacular scene at a dinner table where Pine and Pugh go toe-to-toe and the movie could have used a lot more of this kind of thing. It’s easily the best scene in the entire film, because we have two people who are actually actors bringing out the best in each other. Moments like this are few and far between in Don’t Worry Darling.
We also have Gemma Chan as Frank’s wife, who seems to have an idea about what’s really going on here, but the movie doesn’t tell you what she knows or why her character may or may not be important. She’s just kind of nothing – she gets to wear the great costumes and her hair looks great, but that’s all she is. Olivia Wilde also stars here as Alice’s best friend (ironically, considering the offscreen drama between Wilde and Pugh), and I enjoyed her performance. She’s catty and has some fun one-liners. But maybe someone else could have played this role so Wilde could have – I don’t know – directed her own movie.
Don’t Worry Darling’s fatal errors are in the script, which is the hottest of hot messes. The movie keeps telling you something dreadful is afoot, but there are no clues that make sense in the end. It just repeatedly hits you over the head with the same ‘something dreadful is afoot’ message.
Initially I didn’t even think the ending twist was that bad, even though you could see it coming from a mile away. However, the more I sat with this twist and thought about it, I really think it just about ruins everything that came before it. I enjoyed Don’t Worry Darling for a good while. The third act, however, is unforgivably terrible. And then the film has no ending at all, we end with ambiguity and ambiguity is laziness when it’s executed like this. We also have a car chase for no reason in the last ten minutes because the audience was dozing off, apparently? And then we end the film in a way that tells you they really didn’t know how to end this movie, and one where the plot holes are illuminated.
I still hope Olivia Wilde gets to make another movie, because there is a lot of ambition and technical wizardry on display here. Even though she does seem to be her own worst enemy, in many, many ways. But maybe dial it back a bit next time and not swing for the fences so violently. Despite the fact that Don’t Worry Darling is by no means a good movie, I would kind of recommend seeing it at some point because it’s just kind of astounding to see a cast and crew of this caliber all participate in something that’s pretty much an indisputable failure.