2022 | rated R | starring Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Olivia Wilde, Gemma Chan, Nick Kroll, Kiki Lane, Timothy Simons, Chris Pine | directed by Olivia Wilde | 2h 3m |
Don’t Worry Darling comes into theaters on a wave of hilarious negative publicity with one leaked story after another of chaos on the set, screaming matches, legal matters between director Wilde and one-time-cast lead Shia LaBeouf. Hopefully one day soon we’ll get a Hearts of Darkness style documentary on the making of this movie because it sounds wild. Based on a screenplay from Carey and Shane Van Dyke (Dick Van Dyke’s children) that sat on the Hollywood blacklist for years until Wilde saw it as the right vessel for her misandrist fantasy. Hiring Booksmart scribe Katie Silberman to refashion all of it, the two set about to making Don’t Worry Darling a Stepford Wives for the Metaverse generation. It’s a mess of a movie on both ends, that botches the set-up to a lazy payoff.
Alice (Florence Pugh) lives in the colorful desert suburbia of Victory in the 1950s, where she tends to the choirs, gossips with neighbors and greets her husband Jack (Harry Styles) at the door every day after a long day of working at a mysterious lab known as the Victory Project. The project requires absolute discretion and the wives speculate about what they could be building out there (a weapon?), until one day Alice sees a plane crash in the desert, suffers a series of hallucinations and is met with increasing resistance from the town planner Frank (Chris Pine) and doctor (Timothy Simons, Veep) whom she believes is doing something to everyone in town.
Don’t Worry Darling is one of those movies that spends it’s entire time sitting in the corner panting and side-eyeing you, barely able to keep from blurting out what it has up it’s sleeve. It would be a terrible poker player. It wants to pull off this grand final reveal without doing the leg-work to set it up first. Meaning, Victory seems odd from minute one. At no point does it set the suburbs up as a lived-in fully functioning world that people would feel at home living in. Every man in the film walks around acting suspicious all the time. It feels like The Truman Show where everyone in town is so wildly underprepared for the simplest questions that they trip over their words trying to explain basic things. Then instead of something odd happening and Alice pulling that thread to find something else and something else and piece the puzzle together, she starts having visions that pull her out of the world and make her suspect everything around her. Visions. The laziest plot device in the book. If she was having visions because she was declared to be The Chosen One it wouldn’t have been more derivative.
The movie looks nice, the 50s aesthetic is at least superficially captured, the colors are so bright and cartoonish it’s like being dropped into The Simpsons and I can’t deny that the film’s high-speed car chase finale is snappy, well done and actually fun. The 1950s setting ultimately goes un-commented on as if Wilde and Silberman actually have no idea what it’s function in the story might be, pull the time period out of any historical context with nothing, but smirky condescension from her “more enlightened” perch in 2022. It seems Wilde and Silberman’s only historical reference point for the 50s is Pleasantville and even that is dubious given how they over-sexualize it.
Following Jordan Peele’s Get Out, this is the 2nd and most obvious high-profile movie to retread over the themes and paranoia plot of the 1975 feminist sci-fi cult classic The Stepford Wives. Aside from it’s lack of patience, one of the chief issues with Darling is that it poises itself as a social satire and has nothing new to say. Part Stepford, partly a very specific episode of Black Mirror (spoiler), there is nothing here we haven’t seen or heard before better.
A lot is made in movie criticism of whether male writers can effectively write female characters. Don’t Worry Darling is the inverse: a female writer and director completely unable to write male characters. Every guy in the film is a bumbling idiot – which is the point – and it completely discredits them as a threat. It totally undermines the mystery when the guys are comically unable to cover up the simplest lie. This movie has no empathy for them. It has no interest in creating a story – even a satirical one – for why they’d do what it’s revealed they do. It’s so busy making fun of them that it cannot craft them into 3-dimensional characters, even as villains. I wouldn’t have a problem with all the men in this movie being villains, I would just prefer that they be interesting villains.