Olivia Wilde’s second characteristic behind the digicam, Don’t Worry Darling, will extra possible be remembered for the offscreen intrigue — tabloid romance, lead actor alternative, a manifestly public serving of custody papers, a rumored conflict between director and star — than it’s for a lot else in this umpteenth Stepford Wives knockoff. That’s to not say it’s with out sizeable pluses, chief amongst them a meaty lead position for the dependably compelling Florence Pugh, who hasn’t performed a girl in this a lot peril since Midsommar. It additionally scores factors for permitting Chris Pine to point out what a devilishly charismatic villain he might be.
The high-concept, low-satisfaction psychological thriller marks an formidable improve in scope for Wilde from the character-driven coming-of-age comedy of Booksmart, and she or he handles the bodily elements of the mission with assurance. It’s only a disgrace all the trouble has gone right into a script with out a lot of that 2019 debut’s disarming freshness.
Don’t Worry Darling
The Bottom Line
High gloss, low originality.
One of the massive attracts, after all, is It Boy Harry Styles, whose rabid followers seem to really feel such deranged possession that they’ve scarcely shunned burning Wilde effigies to decry their off-camera relationship. She’s 10 years his senior! How dare she! Leaving all that nonsense apart — it’s their Business, individuals, calm down — Styles carries himself with confidence as keen younger firm man and loving however more and more conflicted husband Jack Chambers.
The early a part of the film — a nonstop river of cocktails fueling a whirl of events throughout which Jack and his spouse Alice (Pugh) can’t maintain their fingers off one another — is so rattling attractive you would possibly need to transfer into the mysterious Victory Project group and disrespect the indicators of one thing sinister behind all of the smiling faces and excellent marriages.
When issues flip darkish and unusual and Jack’s idealized world is threatened, that’s when doubts come up about Styles’ vary. Is he only a magnetic display presence who seems fabulous in Fifties threads, or an actor able to depth and nuance? He’s effective in the position, however primarily based on this, the jury’s nonetheless out.
While Wilde has cited mind-benders like Inception, The Matrix and The Truman Show as inspirations, solely the final of these involves thoughts whereas watching, alongside The Stepford Wives. But the movie has simply as a lot in frequent with the blunt social commentary of exhibits like Amazon’s Them or motion pictures like George Clooney’s Suburbicon, which wrenched worry and alienation out of Black trauma whereas discovering nothing enlightening to say about it.
In place of racism, Don’t Worry Darling creeps us out with the inflexible enforcement of antiquated gender roles — a Fifties patriarchal order bent on convincing ladies that homemaking and elevating youngsters are the last word aspiration whereas maintaining them in the darkish concerning the mysteries of their husbands’ work for the corporate. But there’s nothing complicated or subversive behind that façade of perky housewives and roosts dominated by males.
It’s definitely an attention-grabbing setup. Arianne Phillips’ retro-chic fashion-spread costumes and Katie Byron’s swanky midcentury-modern units (Palm Springs, California, is the direct reference) are a shiny visible feast, even when there’s a touch of Ryan Murphy-style art-directorial extra. But the screenplay — a Black List title by brothers Carey and Shane Van Dyke, retooled by Katie Silberman, considered one of Wilde’s writers on Booksmart — doesn’t come along with persuasive revelations as soon as the cracks in the utopia have been laid naked.
The pristine suburban enclave works in clean lockstep. The Chambers and their neighbors — which embrace glam cocktail queen Bunny (Wilde) and her go-getter husband Dean (Nick Kroll) — get together arduous collectively at night time in their restricted enclave after which the wives wave off their husbands at precisely the identical time every morning as they head out in their rainbow-hued convertibles to drive throughout the desert to Victory headquarters, the place the ladies are forbidden to enterprise. The guys’ work is prime secret, and why would the ladies even have to know? They have every little thing they need.
They clear home after which get collectively to gossip, hit the cocktail cart, swim in the pool or store on the particular Victory stores the place every little thing is offered for them, freed from cost. In between, they attend dance courses carried out by the glacially poised Shelley (Gemma Chan), whose husband Frank (Pine) is the Svengali-like mastermind behind Victory. “There is beauty in control,” coos Shelley. “There is grace in symmetry.”
Then they head house to repair dinner, greeting their husbands on the door with a drink in hand. If they’re like Alice, and nonetheless an object of insatiable need, their painstakingly ready roast beef unfold is likely to be swept to the ground whereas Jack chows down on one thing else completely.
At a welcome mixer for wide-eyed new couple Violet (Sydney Chandler) and Bill (Douglas Smith), Frank holds court docket like a slick evangelist, celebrating the rewards of a world reshaped “into the way things are supposed to be.” But a tear in the material of this rigorously curated actuality turns into evident when Margaret (KiKi Layne) begins freaking out and must be whisked off house by her involved husband Ted (Ari’el Stachel).
The creepy Dr. Collins (Timothy Simons, doing a lugubrious reversal on his bumbling Veep character), who constructed the group with Frank, assures the visitors that every little thing’s effective. But unsettling insights into what triggered Margaret’s meltdown immediate Alice to begin interrogating Jack. What precisely is the “development of progressive materials” that he claims is Victory’s core Business? Her sleep is more and more disturbed by goals of Busby Berkeley-style dance routines that includes the wives, by Margaret’s warnings that the place was constructed on lies, and by woozy echoes of Frank’s motivational talks, continuously booming from a tv someplace.
When Alice witnesses a airplane crash and is instructed she imagined it, a confrontation with Frank begins to construct. These scenes between Pugh’s frightened however tenacious Alice and Pine’s slippery manipulator Frank, who appears amused and greater than somewhat enticed by her rebelliousness, generate actual sparks as she accuses him of controlling them. It’s a deal with to observe Pine put his ridiculously good-looking seems and easygoing allure to such malevolent use.
Alice’s growing resistance to the culty Victory guidelines makes life tough for Jack, particularly as soon as he’s chosen by Frank for development at an organization perform that culminates in the chilling chant: “Whose world is this? Ours!” This can be the one scene the place Styles will get to chop free, launching right into a boisterous rubber-limbed dance routine on stage to have fun his promotion. There’s an air of virtually manic dedication in his strikes, as if Jack is conscious the world is closing in on the lady he loves however tries to stave off that catastrophe by sheer drive of will.
The inevitable Big Reveal that happens when Alice makes a break for it’s considerably novel, although it doesn’t actually maintain water, like a Black Mirror episode that ought to have been despatched again to the writers’ room for one more go or two. It additionally appears only a bit primary that all of it factors to a nefarious motion to fight the emasculation of the delicate male and the development of ladies looking for profession success and monetary independence — like probably the most elementary feminist cartoon tackle male oppression.
The tense last act goes by the motions however doesn’t ship the place it counts — with a provocative payoff. Even so, it’s gripping to observe Pugh go up in opposition to medical doctors deftly gaslighting her, or worse, and nasty-looking males in crimson coveralls working for Victory safety, able to haul off anybody threatening to show the unwholesome underbelly of this paternalistic paradise. The menace that Alice is fleeing is undermined by shaky storytelling, however to Pugh’s credit score, we worry for her all through the pulse-racing climax.
Part of that can be due to the brisk propulsion of cinematographer Matthew Libatique’s crisp visuals and the extra push of John Powell’s large, forceful rating. It’s all the time good to see an rising girl director shepherd a large-scale mission like this, with plum sources and a deluxe forged. But Don’t Worry Darling is apparent even when it turns outlandish. How many extra occasions do we’d like the ironic deployment of the doo-wop traditional “Sh-Boom (Life Could Be a Dream)” to be satisfied it may be a nightmare?