Riddled in behind-the-scenes controversies and news-grabbing headlines and serving as her sophomore follow-up to the well-received Booksmart, Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling was one of the hotly anticipated movies of the year. With a stacked cast, solid director, and the (unfulfilled) promise of a timely thriller with something to say, there was a lot to be excited for. However, one must wonder if perhaps, like the universe Wilde creates, some of the controversies weren’t actually fabricated to lure unsuspecting audiences into a tepid reality.
Don’t Worry Darling follows housewife Alice (played well by a very breathy Florence Pugh) as she lives the idyllic lifestyle of the 1950s. Her husband, Jack (a forgettable Harry Styles), and the rest of the neighborhood husbands are bid farewell each morning by their doting spouses to work at a secret facility headed by the enigmatic Frank (Chris Pine, blending menace and charisma decently). Soon Alice begins to suspect that something is afoot and starts to question her reality.
Despite a loaded cast that also includes Wilde, Gemma Chan, and Nick Kroll, the only real standout is Pugh, making the most out of a weak screenplay by Katie Silberman. The story borrows heavily from other thrillers in the vein of The Stepford Wives, Black Mirror, and The Truman Show, but without their unique sensibilities. This does nothing for this film’s originality but fills Don’t Worry Darling’s atmosphere with an uneasy sense of déjà vu.
The lack of originality is ultimately what hurts the film. Instead of saying something new, Wilde rehashes old concepts and blends them into an incoherent mess that wants to make a clever point but misses entirely. Or perhaps the critiques of a patriarchal society are so on the nose, that they lack any real bite. Were women subdued and forced into one role in the 1950s? Yes. Are they still today? Also yes. Is this bad? The movie, lacking any nuances, answers with an emphatic yes. None of this is surprising.
One bright spot is the film’s style (not it’s lead actor, mind you). Wilde paints a dreamy 1950s suburb and allows the setting to play its own character. The exteriors are bright and airy, while the confines of the interiors are darker and more pressing. Again, subtlety does not have a place here, but visually it works well. Pacing staggers at several points thanks to the screenplay not really saying much, but Pugh propels the movie forward with the help of Wilde’s quick cuts.
Ultimately, Don’t Worry Darling is a mediocre film at best, with very little to say. It is apparent that there was ambition and a desire to say something profound, but everything seems recycled, and the message falls flat. Even a third act “twist” can be seen coming, nearly from the dream-like opening. Nothing seems new, much is very predictable, and the result is just another cog in the machine. A movie whose legacy will be it’s behind-the-scenes drama rather than the film itself, and that, darling, is something to worry about.