Olivia Wilde’s sophomore effort has big shoes to fill. Her debut, Booksmart, showed the potential of the actress turned director, able to stretch themes, be consistently funny all while staying well within an intimate setting and is easily one of the best films in 2019 – at least it’s on my top list. With all eyes looking toward what Wilde would tackle next, a resounding optimism in the months leading up to the release would follow if the result duplicated. Don’t Worry Darling, the name of her second feature has all the ambition in the world of a new filmmaker however, the film takes elements from previous genre pieces and stitches itself together in a Frankenstein monster-esque misaligned amalgamation result.
To not give all details away in the form of a spoiler, Don’t Worry Darling follow’s Alice (Florence Pugh) and her husband Jack (Harry Styles) set in a vintage 1950’s era dystopia that gives off cult vibes. The towns name is Victory, and every inch of this small paradise feels off. Full of Allegorical messages for the characters within the town of Victory, Jack and Alice give the appearance of happy newlyweds. Alice is a stay-at-home wife while Jack and the other men go off to work at an undisclosed location for 8 hours a day, forbidden to the women of the town, only to return to a clean house, a strong drink and dinner on the table.
On the outside, everything that happens in Victory indeed looks to be heaven on earth. Warm weather, blue skies, green grass, very little traffic, a big house and friendly neighbors surround Alice and Jack. Once the curtains are pulled back however, Victory is a nightmare, a façade, a bait and switch that will consume unexpecting residents who have no idea what is going on. Living next to Jack and Alice and their best friends is Bunny (Wilde) and Dean (Nick Kroll) and Peg (Kate Berlant) and Peter (Asif Ali). Victory’s founder is a mysterious man, sulking in the shadows when the film begins, only to come out of his shell and play a more prominent cult leader facing role. His name is Frank (Chris Pine), and he’s married to Shelley (Gemma Chan).
Aside from Pugh, who’s Alice is the main protagonist, the actress commands the screen and carries this film on her back, while supporting characters aren’t given nearly the same attention to them that would lead to a favorable outcome. I can’t help but wonder if Pugh has spine issues now because of the heavy burden of dragging this film to its finish line. Characters are created just to exist – they are there just to drink, be merry and ignore the outcries that Alice and Margaret (KiKi Layne) begin to bring to light.
With a script written by Katie Silberman and a story conceived by Shane and Carey Van Dyke, Don’t Worry Darling is detected from itself – seen through a looking glass that’s pointed toward the societal norms we have chosen to ignore. Getting past the over the top, in your face sexual tension, which controls the first hour of the film, Pugh and Styles have no real chemistry together, lending the relationship between Jack and Alice to fall flat.
Since it’s not the characters that will garnish the attention from viewers, what overcompensates for the shortcomings is the pulse pounding score by composer John Powell, whose other credits include the Bourne films among others and Matthew Libatique’s cinematography. Libatique transcends the viewer to the period of an aesthetically pleasing color palette that captures the real-world small-town charm. Technically sound, and beautifully designed by Katie Byron, Victory is the quaint town we all wish ours resembled. Overall, the film is devoid of charm, largely due to the forgotten ensemble’s pretentious nature, spending its first hour slowly playing out in a world full of melancholic choices, gossip and ton of expository set up.
Once the film transitions into the second half, the pace kicks into high gear, lamenting the themes that get teased throughout. Even with a refocused second half, Don’t Worry Darling struggles to stick the landing of an entire premise that was borrowed to begin with – though has the potential to be more than the premise invited. Given what the cast and crew had to endure to make it to the release date, there is a lot of good within Wilde’s second film. In just a short amount of time both Pugh and Styles have had they star power skyrocket but its clear, Pugh’s performance Is the one to experience this tale while Styles gets lost among Pug’s prowess.
Screenplay By: Katie Silberman
Story By: Katie Silberman, Carey Van Dyke & Shane Van Dyke
Directed By: Olivia Wilde
Music By: John Powell
Cinematography: Matthew Libatique
Starring: Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Olivia Wilde, Gemma Chan, Kiki Layne, Nick Kroll, Chris Pine
Release Date: September 23, 2022
Running Time: 2 Hours 3 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 39%