“Don’t Worry Darling”: Maybe you should worry a little bit


Warner Bros. Pictures

Olivia Wilde’s sophomoric feature is a messy, airless and frustrating endeavor, but not one without filmic flair.

Jake Panek, Staff Writer

Olivia Wilde may have struck gold with her directorial debut “Booksmart,” a hilarious if slight subversion of the raunchy high school comedy, but some of that success seems to have gone to her head with “Don’t Worry Darling.” I guess you have to give her some props for having the confidence to try and pull off a dive as high as this, and it’s admittedly amusing to watch the film try to walk off how hard it belly flops, but the gap between how smart Wilde clearly thinks it is and how vapid it really feels is wide enough to nullify almost every bit of potential it suggests. At both its best and worst, “Don’t Worry Darling” just feels like a derivative, half-baked version of “Black Mirror”—a show that was also mostly derivative and half-baked to begin with, mind you.

The film takes place in the 1950s in the company town of Victory, a sunny paradise located in the middle of the Californian desert, and follows Alice (played by Florence Pugh), a woman who is one of many young housewives in the community. Every day follows the same routines: making breakfast for her husband Jack (played by Harry Styles), kissing him goodbye as he leaves for work at the Victory Project, cleaning, shopping, lounging at the pool, gossipping with her neighbor Bunny (played by Olivia Wilde) and attending ballet classes led by Shelley (played by Gemma Chan). Permeating the airwaves of the town is the voice of Shelley’s husband Frank (played by Chris Pine), the founder of the Victory Project whose duty it is to continually remind the girls that what the men are doing—production of progressive materials—is extremely dangerous, and that for their safety they must stay in the town at all times. But after a woman named Margaret (played by Kiki Layne) seems to lose her mind after wandering out into the desert and accuses the men of lying about what they’re really working on, Alice starts to question the world around her, and the psychological toll that it takes on her and the rest of the population slowly unveils the true reality of Victory.

The screenwriter for “Don’t Worry Darling” is Katie Silberman, but the actual concept and story came from a spec script written by Shane and Carey Van Dyke. This wouldn’t be a very important detail if it weren’t for the fact that the only other films that Shane Van Dyke has written and directed have been trashy, low budget and critically panned ones like “Titanic II” and “Paranormal Entity.” Knowing this story’s roots are literally in the same league as the movies made by the studio that created “Sharknado” is not a good sign, to say the least, and despite Silberman’s best efforts to tidy up what I could only assume was an already horrible screenplay, it’s still an uneven and, in turn, aggravatingly tedious affair. The film hardly escalates for nearly the entirety of its first half, plateauing after a shocking inciting incident as Alice experiences hallucinations that, as striking as they may be, grow tired in their repetition, and by the time things feel like they’ve been set in motion, the momentum has long been evaporated.

Luckily, most of the heavy lifting here is done by the below the line crew and the cast—Matthew Libatique’s cinematography and Katie Byron’s production design in particular are frequently stunning, with both blending retro and modern styles to great effect, and even though neither of their characters ever feel fully developed, Florence Pugh and Chris Pine are unsurprisingly the best parts of the film. As worrisome as the previews and clips of his performance were, I’m pleased to report that, against every possible odd, Harry Styles is mostly fine. Plenty of the later scenes where he’s screaming show the cracks in his actual dramatic capabilities as an actor, but Styles’ showmanship as a performer helps him sell the moments where he plays Jack simply as a charismatic man and husband. Olivia Wilde is just plain unremarkable in her supporting role, and there’s not a whole lot else to say about her acting other than that I am very glad that she cast Florence Pugh in the lead instead of doing it herself.

Unfortunately, Wilde isn’t as decent behind the camera. Despite the wide range of films that she’s taken “inspiration” from— “The Truman Show,” “The Matrix,” “Inception” and “The Stepford Wives”—there isn’t a single theme, narrative beat or visual idea here that she deploys coherently or with a formal understanding of what makes them work, with many of the visions that Alice sees being either hastily edited or fit with an overbearing score from John Powell. Watching the film feels like putting together a puzzle where the shapes of the pieces fit together smoothly but not their images, and by the time it’s complete, you’re not even sure what the full picture is supposed to look like. The full nature of its twist ending isn’t just laughably underwhelming, but it also retrospectively explains—or more appropriately, ruins—all of the mysterious and surreal tinges the film featured at throughout its first half in an infuriatingly simple way just for the sake of being able to tie a neat bow on any possible loose threads that it was too lazy to address directly.

“Don’t Worry Darling” isn’t nearly disastrous enough to live up to the chaotic rumors and controversies that have plagued its production and marketing (and I imagine will inevitably be more talked about than the film itself will ever be), but it’s also too airless and shallow to do anything productive with the scattered ideas that crop up as it rambles on. It’s just a really mediocre movie, one that definitely exists, one that you can even go see in a theater right now if you really want to, and the only worthwhile thing that I can say is that I hope Olivia Wilde tones it down a little bit for whatever she does next.