Don’t Worry Darling
Outside a pristine cookie cutter cul-de-sac, women attired like 1950’s housewives all see their husbands off to their mysterious jobs at Liberty Project Headquarters where they work on the development of ‘progressive materials.’ Bunny (Olivia Wilde) is quick to tease her best friend and neighbor Alice Chambers (Florence Pugh) about the spicy sex life she shares with handsome husband Jack (Harry Styles) in a seemingly idyllic life, but when Alice sees another friend, Margaret (KiKi Layne, "If Beale Street Could Talk"), slit her own throat and plummet off a rooftop, everyone assures her that’s not what happened in “Don’t Worry Darling.”
Laura's Review: C+
When I first saw the trailer for director Olivia Wilde’s ("Booksmart") sophomore feature (written by"Booksmart’s" Katie Silberman based on a story by "The Silence's" Carey & Shane Van Dyke), the earth-shaking booms experienced during the day by the happy homemakers made me think the film had something to do with atomic bombs. If only. Instead we get an intriguing set-up fueled by Pugh’s curious and thoroughly committed performance only to realize we’ve seen this concept done before, and done better. The film which has garnered more press for its supposed spats and spit than its own significance features that one compelling performance, Katie Byron's candy colored ("Zola," ""Color Out of Space") production design and the discerning eye of cinematographer Matthew Libatique, but it all deflates in its last act like a desert dry soufflé.
We’re introduced to this cast of characters indulging in too many martinis, the women wearing trays on their heads in a game to keep drinks from spilling, a participatory bit of misogyny which discomfits from the get go. And yet there is something a bit different about Jack and Alice, a greater equivalence in the relationship despite their adherence to gender roles. Alice also seems uncomfortable with her friends Bunny and the pregnant Peg’s (Kate Berlant, TV's 'A League of Their Own') easy acceptance of Margaret’s ‘breakdown,’ the woman having disobeyed Victory founder Frank’s (Chris Pine) one stated rule not to cross the boundary into headquarters.
Before the men return in their shiny Pontiacs and T-Birds, these women spend their days cleaning house, shopping and attending the dance class run by Frank’s wife Shelley (Gemma Chan) who prizes synchronized conformity. But everything changes one day when Alice, who’s already troubled the male trolley driver by not getting off at the shopping center, sees a plane crash and insists on helping – which means walking into the restricted area.
In addition to the beautiful mid-century homes, vintage autos, stunning costumes and Rat Pack era radio hits, one must acknowledge the huge influence of Libatique’s style here. His cutaways - flashes of blood droplets, the iris of an eye and the Busby Berkeley style dancers who morph into ghouls – are reminiscent of his work on "Requiem for a Dream.” He stages Alice’s breaks with reality – eggs she crushes to discover nothing inside, the glass wall she’s cleaning which bears down on her like a mammogram machine, her own reflection watching her slip under her bathtub water – with unsettling sunniness.
But aside from Pugh, none of the supporting cast really stand out (the film also features Nick Kroll as Bunny’s husband, ‘Veep’s’ Timothy Simons as Dr. Collins, Sydney Chandler and Douglas Smith as Victory’s newest couple and Dita Von Teese as herself) and despite the disorienting edit that introduces just what’s really going on when one begins to think about the motivations behind it, it just doesn’t really add up. Add to that a lack of imagination to show us just what Alice actually sees up at Victory headquarters and we’re left unsatisfied. “Don’t Worry Darling” has too many strong elements to dismiss it, but its early pop and fizzle turns into flat champagne.
Robin's Review: C+
It is the 1950s and Alice and Jack Chambers (Florence Pugh and Harry Styles) are newcomers to the brand new development owned by the Victory Corp. The men leave for work every day and the woman cook, clean and tend to their house and family. But, there are cracks in this idyllic façade and things are not as they seem in “Don’t Worry Darling.”
This is Olivia Wilde’s second time behind the camera of a feature film, the first being “Booksmart (2019)," and it does represent a quantum leap for the sophomore helmer in terms of budget and scope. And, for a little while, it looks like the story by Katie Silberman, Carey Van Dyke and Shane Van Dyke, with its sci-fi and “Stepford Wives” vibe, will work, especially with Florence Pugh’s dynamic performance as the fast enlightening Alice.
While Pugh does sparkle as our sci-fi heroine and gives a fully dimensioned characterization to Alice, the rest of the cast are two-dimensioned, at best, as the players supporting the star. Harry Styles, as Alice’s workaholic husband Jack, is actually quite boring and uninvolving. Chris Pine, as Victory Corp’s “charismatic” leader is supposed to be sinister and hungry for power, but he is not good at it. One thing needed here is a good bad guy and a genuinely evil corporation.
I think director Wilde bit off more than she could comfortably chew and shot for the stars. The first and second stages grabbed my interest, especially Pugh’s arc of character, but the critical third stage fizzled and falls into the sea.
Warner Brothers opens "Don't Worry Darling" in theaters on 9/23/22.