Billed as a Get Out or The Stepford Wives clone, Don’t Worry Darling can’t land the emotional depth and subtlety of either drama in this threadbare thriller that feels like a massive misstep of a second feature from Olivia Wilde, who gave us the excellent Booksmart a few years ago – the intriguing trailer promising the mystery of the too-good-to-be-true ’50s-esque landscape of the Victory Project is quickly put to the sword, in favour of a film that only offers the easy answers.
Whilst technically well crafted with several stylish shots and a suave look about it that would see this film at home with the likes of Mad Men, Don’t Worry Darling fails to deliver an exciting premise beyond what you expect it to be. It’s predictable at every turn and entirely one note, generic to a fault – the characters are all basic stereotypes and the actors’ ability to deliver lines ranges from good to downright awful, Harry Styles somehow even worse here in than in My Policeman, between both movies really should stick to his day job – he once again makes the mistake of pairing himself up with actors who show just how much better they are at doing what they do – the depth Florence Pugh brings to her character makes her Alice feel like a real, human person – but Styles’ restrained, accent-shifting Jack feels clumsy and awkward, out of place once again. Olivia Wilde is good in a supporting role but it’s a rare misfire for Chris Pine, who’s not given really enough to do other than skulk in the background and act sinister. More Pine was needed here, as he’s appropriately menacing when on screen.
The second half is perhaps a bit too predictable, the film plays its hand early and ruins the surprise, not helped by the marketing when it quickly becomes clear that the trailer is just the entire film. There’s no surprise, but the glamour of Victory is fascinating to watch peel apart of all the same – the world brings to mind Manhattan on WGN America that aired for two seasons and the inter-politics initially recall the towns set up in those conditions. It was interesting to see that Don’t Worry Darling didn’t head down that route; but the route it did head down is far more boring – I would’ve been a fan of the period drama had it explored more of the setting and the world outside. DOP Matthew Libatique crafts some eye-catching shots, but it’s all style over substance, even its feminism feels empty, a portrayal of one such character is downright problematic at best – but to go into detail would invite spoilers – safe to say, like everything else, its politics are surface level at best.
The 1950s idealistic American suburbia is something that has been portrayed as a falsehood for so many years in cinema now that there’s nothing fresh here in Olivia Wilde’s take, Don’t Worry Darling leans more into the pulpier side of things with a sleazy overture, but it lacks the raw grit of the pulpiest and sleaziest films – there’s a hint of polish about it that lends to a manufactured feel, not unlike Bones and All. Style over substance is not an approach that’s best served here – and to her credit, Florence Pugh is just superb at getting the best out of the material – but she’s even better in The Wonder, out soon on Netflix – and has had better projects out this year. Styles, Wilde, Gemma Chan, Pine – this is going to be a high point for absolutely nobody involved in the thing – and the end result is not worth its artificial much-gossiped about production troubles that ended up becoming an excellent marketing tool for a movie that arrives on more of a whimper than anything else.