Victory is an idyllic place. The men work all day at some undefined “very important” job, then come back to their suburban home for a wonderful dinner with their loving wife. Meanwhile, the women spend their days shopping, drinking and gossiping with each other, before waiting at home for their appreciative husband. Victory exists as a 1950’s utopia, where everybody is formally dressed, the homes are tastefully decorated, the neighbors are all friends and there is a vague hint of something dangerous lurking in the outside world.
This is the setting of Don’t Worry Darling (115 minutes, not including the end credits), a psychological thriller with a great production/costume design, good performances, an okay setup and a screenplay that struggles to maintain suspense, leading to a wholly unsatisfying payoff to its central mystery.
Florence Pugh is Alice, a perfect wife married to a perfect man, who seems to be happy in this paradise until she begins to suspect that the man running the community is hiding a dark secret. Pugh is really good as usual as the terrified woman digging toward a truth she is repeatedly told is a delusion. She is able to get absolutely everything anyone could possibly get out of the character, carrying the movie up to the point where that is out of even her reach.
Olivia Wilde (who also directed) is amusing as Alice’s more pragmatic best friend, Bunny. Harry Styles certainly looks the part as Alice’s husband, Jack. He’s fine enough just based on his presence, though he can’t hold his own against Pugh when things get emotional. The other major role goes to Chris Pine as Frank, the man in charge. Pine brings a real cult-leader charm and he is excellent in a tense dinner party scene where he essentially challenges Alice to confront him. He is enjoyable, so it is all the more disappointing when the ending takes away his intrigue.
This is Wilde’s second directorial effort. The first was the brilliant teen comedy Booksmart, which was co-written by Don’t Worry Darling screenwriter Katie Silberman. That was smart, hilarious, energetic and very confident. Their follow-up collaboration is more ambitious in theory, yet in practice it is derivative and lacks a sense of purpose. It doesn’t really work as a thriller and its message, about how women are enslaved by the patriarchy, has been relayed much more effectively in the past. I would give examples of what movies this is reminiscent of, but that would spoil things.
Olivia Wilde, production designer Katie Byron and costume designer Arianne Phillips did a fantastic job creating a consistent look and feel perfect for the story being told. The location is established well immediately and then little time is wasted before the cracks in the façade begin to show. The look, the soundtrack and the performance by Florence Pugh are all strong enough that it is quite unfortunate that it generates so few thrills and, especially, that the conclusion is such a letdown. If it had stuck the landing, delivering something compelling and thought-provoking, that would have made up for at least some of its shortcomings. Alas, it does not.
Recent discussions concerning Don’t Worry Darling have pretty much exclusively focused on behind the scenes drama involving Olivia Wilde, Florence Pugh, Harry Styles and Chris Pine. Sadly, for those of us who would rather pay attention to the on-screen product, as opposed to the off-screen romances and alleged feuds, the movie will likely be forgotten long before the talk surrounding it is.
2½ out of 5
Florence Pugh as Alice Chambers
Harry Styles as Jack Chambers
Olivia Wilde as Bunny
Chris Pine as Frank
Gemma Chan as Shelley
Nick Kroll as Dean
Directed by Olivia Wilde
Screenplay by Katie Silberman