“Don’t Worry Darling” struggles to do much of anything

October 6, 2022

“Don’t Worry Darling” is a film that has seen its fair share of media coverage in the leadup to its release. The film has been one of the most drama-filled productions in decades, as seemingly every person involved had some sort of tea to be spilled, with even lead actress Florence Pugh’s lack of social media marketing making headlines. 

The film is director Olivia Wilde’s second feature following her 2019 smash hit debut, “Booksmart.” “Don’t Worry Darling” felt like a major departure from the coming-of-age, ground level, small-scale roots of her previous film. Wilde pivots to a larger studio film, complete with decadent set design and a star-studded cast. Prior to its release, it even seemed like a potential awards contender.

The film stars Florence Pugh, Chris Pine and, in his first leading role, Harry Styles. His casting in the film caused a large stir of controversy itself, as many were skeptical of his ability to act alongside other seasoned performers. Although, it can be assumed that a large amount of the film’s fanfare and financial success can be attributed to Styles’ inclusion in the film, as his star power in the musical realm is undeniable. 

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Early marketing and trailers suggested a mystery filled psychological thriller, with many layers to peel back in its plot. The film takes place in the 1950s as Florence Pugh stars as our lead, Alice, who is a housewife to Harry Styles’ character, Jack, the family breadwinner. They live in “Victory,” an experimental utopian suburban community. Chris Pine stars as Frank, the community’s leader, who runs the company that all the communities’ men work at. Oddities and mysterious happenings begin to stack up as the film progresses, causing Alice to fall into a spiral of lies and deceptions. 

To be blunt, “Don’t Worry Darling” is, like the drama surrounding it, a hot mess. Its long stretches of nonsensical dialogue, unbalanced acting and confounding plot twists create an experience nearly as disorienting as what Alice experiences throughout the film and not in an intentional way. 

The film is far too overlong for its own good, as it has enough substance to maybe constitute a 40-minute episode of “Black Mirror” and certainly not its two-plus hour runtime. It’s constantly running in circles, rehashing scenes we’ve seen multiple times, following unnecessary plot developments and forcing the audience to sit through countless meaningless monologues that feel nearly un-edited. 

We are strung along with various instances of strange imagery and occurrences in their suburban town. None of them make any sense at all but hinge on the audience trusting that it will all make sense eventually once it reveals its secrets.

While I’m hesitant to reveal any of its major plot points, it can be said plainly that its major twist does not serve as a satisfying or logical connection to the film’s buildup. Frustratingly, I found the twist itself compelling and interesting, but when the expectations are set so high, with nearly two hours of open-ended mysteries leading up to it, you feel a bit cheated by the end. 

It felt as though many things were written on the fly or retroactively, with no effort to make it connect logically to the film’s actual plot or themes. The film often cuts to sequences of psychedelic, vaguely experimental imagery, outside of the film’s reality. But these sequences are far more in service of being “quirky” or “unexpected” rather than having any real depth whatsoever.

Florence Pugh is exceptional in her role, as the one thing that keeps “Don’t Worry Darling” from being completely unwatchable. She shows immense range and emotional resonance, and she proves herself as one of the most exciting leading women that we have in popular film today. Although it does feel as though she is punching below her weight in certain moments, this seems to be the fault of the lackluster script and the film’s troubled production. 

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Chris Pine also shines through in his scenes and is best when he and Pugh are acting against each other. Though still frustrating, as they are only given one substantial scene to have any kind of fun with. Pine still comes off as a consummate professional in the film itself, as well as in the equally embarrassing press tour. 

Disappointingly, one of the film’s largest missteps is the casting of Harry Styles. He is far from bad, but he is dwarfed in comparison when sharing scenes with Pine and Pugh, as they outshine him in nearly every way. He lacks any sort of command in his scenes and always feels like he’s in the background, which is perplexing for someone who is supposed to be the co-lead. 

Styles’ performance is even more egregious once the film’s major twist is revealed. He plays the opposite of what the character should be and what the other male actors represent. He is far too charismatic and lacks any duality that the reveal necessitates. This leads to the assumption that his casting was more of a marketing decision, or the result of a favor being called in, as virtually any other alternative casting would have been more suited for what the film required.

This is not to say “Don’t Worry Darling” is all bad. It has excellent set design that’s complimented by visually engaging, symmetric cinematography from Matthew Libatique. It also has a subversive and interesting score from John Powell that combines standard orchestration with dark synthesizers and anxiety-inducing vocal chants that enhance the film’s atmosphere greatly. 

“Don’t Worry Darling” proves to be an especially devastating sophomore slump for Olivia Wilde, coupled with embarrassing real-life drama surrounding it, it’s hard to be optimistic for her future as a director. But if she bounces back with anything half as charismatic as “Booksmart,” her undeniably unique style may still have an interesting trajectory. 

Rating: 4/10

Staff reporter Zaden Dennis can be reached at [email protected] and you can find his other reviews at letterboxd.com/Zadenator.

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