I wanted so badly to be able to say “despite on-set messiness and the PR tour disaster (that was entertaining for all of the wrong reasons) Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling is a triumph! And it almost was!
First and foremost, Florence Pugh is a gift. Ever since that Alice in Wonderland-like smirk at the end of Midsommar, I knew she was something special. The girl has a fearless way of embodying not just a character, but every part of said character. She’s not going to give a character dignity if it’s not on the page. She’s so good and magnetic to watch. She plays Alice who we find dealing with her own wonderland – the desert utopia filled with kitschy ideals. Small men get in big cars and drive off to work where they develop “progressive materials”. The wives tidy up their homes until they are sparkling, prepare dinner and go to dance class or the pool to relax.
As soon as her husband Jack (Harry Styles) arrives home, Alice is waiting dutifully with a fresh drink and all of her body he can take. It’s Idyllic and Alice (literally) can’t imagine a life greater than the one they have. That is, until things start to slowly unravel. Their former friend Margaret (played hauntingly by Kiki Layne) is swinging on the last string to her sanity. Or so the male inhabitants want you to think. As Alice starts to grapple with her own incidents, she begins to wonder if there’s something to what Margaret is saying. A chance accident leads Alice down the rabbit hole and into a truth she can’t ignore.
The screenplay was co-written by Wilde’s collaborator Katie Silberman who also penned Booksmart. It’s a very Stepford Wives-like story where the gorgeous ‘50s facade lies over a truth of rotting patriarchy. The unofficial mayor of “Victory” is Frank, played with delicious evil by Chris Pine. His loving and doting, yet strong willed wife is dance instructor Shelley (Gemma Chan who brings a lovely intensity to the role). Rounding out the cast is Nick Kroll, Kate Berlant and Asif Ali who add some much needed levity to such a heavy concept.
Ultimately the women of Victory are treasures and we’re fed the same schtick about how they should never leave for their “safety”. I like to think that Wilde knew that this was a well trod story, especially with the success of the Stepford franchise, and so instead she chose to tell the story as beautifully as she could.
The colors are sumptuous and sunsoaked. There are wonderful easter eggs through the film that key you into where it’s going and most are extremely effective without being overkill. Alice and Jack’s relationship is beautifully played as you can see the tension and the love. The nostalgia in itself tells a story. Record players stocked with coveted vinyl, green glazed bathtubs and aprons and large tube televisions. It hearkens back to a time that some like to refer to as “the good ole days” though we know now that was mostly a misnomer. Especially for women, LGBTQ and people of color.
I really had a good experience and enjoyed the movie. There were just two things I had an issue with. First, the ending was rushed. Almost like they were filming and were like “oh yeah…” It seemed like it was setting for a sequel and if that’s the case it leads me to my second point. At 2 hours and 34 minutes if you can’t tell your story completely there’s a problem.
Pugh’s performance is gorgeous. And there are times I’m understandably frustrated with her as she tries to understand what’s happened to her world. However, within the realm of the film her awkwardness and distinct lack of chill is completely relatable. You might not like it, but you get why she makes the moves she does. The same needs to apply to the film for it to be truly coherent.
Harry Styles is not yet the type of actor who can elevate off the screen. He does what he’s told and in that vein he does it well. But he wasn’t Jack he was Incel Harry. And he was good, but there was a lack of connectivity in the script that he couldn’t overcome. There a scene where Chris Pine makes him dance and he seems miserable yet determined. It’s a compelling and strange scene but ultimately a bit useless as it might only come into play later in the film.
To have a movie so well paced and thoughtful just to be riddled with stilted exposition near the end is a disservice to what was a cool concept with great execution. Because if you address some of the mechanics of your world that aren’t germaine to plot, then it opens up a can of worms about what matters and what doesn’t. What were we meant to examine and what we’re supposed to sweep under the rug. Without giving any spoilers a big question I had at the end was “…why?”
I wasn’t concerned with what would happen next, I wasn’t concerned about the where, the when, the how, but instead, the “why?”. This is not the question one should have at the end of a two and a half hour saga. That said, I would gladly watch it again, and create my own endings. And I could even accept if that was the plan, but the questions I had don’t have any bearing on the story so you could tell it wasn’t the intention to have them asked. Which again, you can get away with unanswered questions in your film, what you can’t get away with is not considering that there will be any. If you give the audience a string, you can expect the plot to become unraveled.
As a message film, it may falter a bit, especially with some shoehorned twists near the end (one in particular would have been great if it happened an hour earlier and was actually dealt with). But as an art film, a piece of controlled chaos where insanity is turned into kinetic energy and dance and sound? It’s gorgeous.
Just be ready to have some questions at the end.