Don’t Worry Darling

Warner Bros.

Reviewed for by Abe Friedtanzer

Director: Olivia Wilde

Writer: Katie Silberman, Carey Van Dyke, Shane Van Dyke

Cast: Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Chris Pine, Olivia Wilde, KiKi Layne, Gemma Chan, Nick Kroll, Kate Berlant, Timothy Simons

Screened at: HBO Max, LA, 11/30/22

Opens: September 23rd, 2022

When things are going too well, sometimes people tend to get suspicious or worried that it will all soon crumble. Those concerns may be unfounded, but there are circumstances in which there exists ample reason for paranoia. Don’t Worry Darling centers on one housewife living a seemingly idyllic life in a community based on cooperativeness and sterility that hides its share of secrets that those pulling the strings don’t want its blissfully-preoccupied residents to know.

Alice (Florence Pugh) spends her days with the other housewives in Victory, California, waiting for her husband, Jack (Harry Styles), to return home from his all-important job. She enjoys a close friendship with her neighbor Bunny (Olivia Wilde) and is particularly intrigued by the enigmatic founder of the Victory Project, Frank (Chris Pine), and his wife Shelley (Gemma Chan). When another wife, Margaret (Kiki Layne), ventures beyond the borders of the community and warns her that something bigger is going on, Alice slowly begins to notice that things around her feel too purposely structured and that she has no idea what it is her husband and all the other men in Victory actually do.

Though Don’t Worry Darling comes from an original script, it has many other cinematic siblings that cover similar material. It’s worthwhile to at least experience this film without knowing what will come as a result of its twists to unveil what is actually going on, but its true appeal lies in Alice’s unraveling. This is the ultimate showcase of gaslighting, since even though Frank’s motivations and aims aren’t known, it’s clear that he is putting on a show for all who are forced to listen, and any attempts at individuality will be promptly stifled and belittled. Who would dare question a perfect life, even if the allure of that oppressive utopia is quickly wearing off?

Around the time of its release, this film was plagued by reports of discord between Wilde, who serves as the director, and Pugh, in addition to other disagreements among cast members. While it’s impossible to fully separate those stories from the finished product, this is unquestionably a showcase for the extremely talented Pugh, who reprised her Marvel Cinematic Universe role in last year’s Hawkeye and also headlines another 2022 release, The Wonder. She is more than capable of dynamically portraying the charming and lovely Alice first introduced and then transforming her into someone determined to find her independence in the process of her harrowing journey to the truth.

Styles is also having a banner year, and here he turns in a less vivid performance than his starring role in My Policeman. It’s still a suitable enough turn, but this is Pugh’s show. Among the supporting cast, Layne is haunting as a woman who, unlike Alice, knows that she is being misled and that proving it will be an uphill, likely impossible battle. Pine makes the most of his scenes as a charismatic leader whose welcoming presence is complemented by an intensity that hints at his inner nefariousness, and Chan boasts many of the same qualities as Shelley.

There is a great deal of intrigue to be found in Don’t Worry Darling, and it’s ultimately a film that benefits most from its lead performance and from its technical elements. The 1950s era clothing pops with color, and the decoration of the houses in which these women spend all their time is particularly vivid and stunning. Like many stories of this nature, it becomes less appealing and well-structured as its mysteries begin to unmask themselves, suggesting that the payoff can’t live up to the premise. While the questions still remain, however, this film is at its best.

123 minutes

Story – B-

Acting – B

Technical – B

Overall – B-

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