Though we may believe, thanks to the dubious miracle of social media, that we know everything about everything, there’s no way to assess what’s going on in a movie—or even to guess what might have gone on behind the scenes—until you’ve actually watched it. Olivia Wilde’s second film as a director, Don’t Worry Darling, Harry Styles and Florence Pugh star in this film—and playing in competition at the 79th Venice Film Festival—has already been decreed a disaster by many who have seen only the trailer. Many of the naysayers-in-advance are those who have heard the gossip—and who hasn’t?—that Pugh became so frustrated with Wilde on the set, particularly in light of her romance with Styles, that she ostensibly had to direct herself. What is the limit to what’s possible? It’s possible to do anything. But it’s also plausible that Wilde, who gave us the extremely likable, if slight, 2019 comedy Booksmart, is capable of making a handsome-looking and reasonably engaging movie that’s somewhere between a disaster and a triumph. Don’t Worry Darling, no matter where you stand on the matter of Olivia Wilde’s personal life—or, for that matter, what you make of her ambitions—deserves to be judged on its own merits, and it does have a few.
Styles and Pugh star as Jack Chambers and Alice Chambers. They are newcomers to the desert community that appears to be an idyllic JFK-era paradise for those who want to live happily in a beautiful house and raise children. Every morning, the men kiss their wives goodbye and hop in into their jaunty tailfin cars, zooming off through the desert in unison to “work,” whatever that might be: they’re part of a shadowy experiment called the Victory Project, spearheaded by a charismatic Ken-doll work and lifestyle guru named Frank (Chris Pine), who has forbidden them to tell their wives about whatever it is they do all day out there in the desert.
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Olivia Wilde (left), Nick Kroll (2nd from left), and Chris Pine (3rd from right)
Warner Bros. Pictures
It is forbidden for the wives to inquire. There’s no need for them to work outside the home, nor do they have the desire to. They are responsible for cleaning the house, taking care of their children, and shopping on Victory. Their husbands are happy to greet them at the end. The Victory Town Link is a little trolley that takes them everywhere they need. One character expressed relief not having to learn to drive. Alice seems pleased enough to be there, and she’s very fond of her new neighbor, Bunny, a saucy mom who’s always ready with a wry joke and a cocktail. (She’s played by Wilde herself.)
But before long, Alice notices there’s something a little odd about the place. Margaret Layne (KiKi) is another neighbor who has become insane and wanders around like a zombie. She’s shunned everywhere in the neighborhood. The raft of colorful neighbors include Nick Kroll as the burger-flipping father and Kate Berlant, who is a deadpan, pregnant wisecracker. Supposedly something has happened to Margaret’s son, the sort of thing that would generally galvanize everyone in a small, close-knit neighborhood, but no one will talk about it. The Victory doctor has “treated” Margaret and reassured everyone that she’s on the mend and all will be well soon. But Alice—a bright one—deduces that something terrible has happened to Margaret, and Victory is covering it up.
Victory is a wonderful place. Jack reminds her every day. They’re lucky to be there—he’s fought for this opportunity. In a comical way these lovebirds look like the most happy couple ever. This is evident in the moment Jack falls on Alice while she sits down at the table. Such a scene in American cinema is quite rare. How can Victory’s life be so miserable?
Florence Pugh is featured in ‘Don’t worry Darling’
Warner Bros. Pictures
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Alice will soon find out. Don’t Worry DarlingThis is just a small sample. Stepford WivesJust a tiny Repulsion. The script is by Katie Silberman, Carey Van Dyke, and Shane Van Dyke, and the plot is cleverly worked out: there’s an M. Night Shyamalan-style twist that’s much better than nearly every Shyamalan twist, save perhaps the one in Sixth Sense And there’s at least the germ of an intelligent idea at the heart of Don’t Worry Darling.Traditionalists such as Jordan Peterson can be funny. They bang their drums while they rant about masculinity’s current crisis and advocate forced monogamy. But given how many women have recently lost autonomy over their own bodies, a science-fiction fantasy about a town filled with compliant, manageable womenfolk, taken care of by good old-fashioned working men, isn’t all that nuts.
Even so, Don’t Worry DarlingMakes for great entertainment, even if it’s a serious parable. Matthew Libatique is a cinematographer and Wilde was the director. Black SwanFamous for being obsessed with overhead shots which instead of adding flair, end up boringly repetitive. They are inseparable from a repetitive motif with Busby Berkeley-dancing cuties. It makes no sense at all, whether it is the first or fifth time. There’s also a pivotal dance sequence, set during a quasi-Nazi rally, featuring an emotionless Styles doing a crazed, hand-waving, foot-shuffling thing while a big band tootles maniacally in the background. I’m very sorry to report that I have absolutely no clue what that’s about.
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The costumes look great, with lots of full skirts, sport shirts and swishy skirts. They are also decorated with cartoonish Katy Keene style. In recent months, much has been written about Wilde’s reported feud with Pugh. (Pugh had originally been scheduled to attend the film’s press conference in Venice on September 5, but a day earlier, it was announced that she would appear on the red carpet only, at the film’s premiere.) If you go to Don’t Worry Darling looking for clues to Wilde’s alleged ineptitude or insensitivity as a director, you won’t see them in Pugh’s performance: she gives Alice some depth and sparkle, and there’s never a moment you don’t root for her. Styles is adorable, but an idiot. Every scene he appears in is almost completely a blur. Oh, him,Every time I saw him walk through my door, it was a thought that got me thinking.
This is the biggest issue with Don’t Worry DarlingIt ends at the wrong spot. This dystopian thriller could be quite effective, but instead it turns into a feminist victory that is easy to forget and patch-on. But even if Don’t Worry Darling could be much better than it is, I’ve seen plenty of pictures made with much greater ineptitude, by fat-ego directors who are not very nice in real life—and who may even, perhaps, have slept with their lead actresses, causing discomfort or friction on the set. These pictures and all the gossip they bring are part of the history of filmmaking. All that’s new is the Internet; human behavior is still retro.
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