Don’t Worry Darling marks the sophomore effort for Olivia Wilde in the director’s chair. Sophomore films can be challenging. Especially following a directorial debut that finds significant success or critical acclaim like Wilde’s Booksmart. For her second turn behind the camera (and in front of it, as she plays the supporting role of Bunny), Wilde takes a drastic detour, venturing away from the comedic hijinks of high school shenanigans, to try her hand in the psychological thriller genre. The results… are mixed.
Alice (Florence Pugh) and Jack (Harry Styles) Chamber live in Victory. It’s an idyllic little town ripped from the screen of a classic sitcom; Leave It To Beaver or The Dick Van Dyke Show. Cookie Cutter houses line the streets and everybody is seemingly happy. The men all work for Frank (Chris Pine). He’s a mysterious man whose charm and authority give him an unmistakable power over the people of Victory. But, of course, beneath the vale of perfection, there are dark secrets. As Alice begins to unravel those secrets, she places herself into a very dangerous position; one she may not escape alive.
For months Don’t Worry Darling has been shrouded in controversy. Not due to the film itself, but for what may have went on behind the scenes. Rumors of terminations, quitting, lies and love affairs were plastered across the headlines of every entertainment site and gossip magazine for weeks. It’s a shame because it detracted from the film itself. People were more worried about whether Harry Styles spit on Chris Pine (which he surely did not) than how he’d perform in his first leading role in a major motion picture.
Styles, best known as the teenaged heartthrob from One Direction, fills in for Shia LeBeouf, who’d originally been slated for the role of Jack. The reasons behind LeBeouf’s departure from Don’t Worry Darling aren’t entirely clear. Styles holds his own (despite an odd and distracting accent) acting against an ensemble of powerhouse veterans like Pugh, whom received a Best Supporting Actress nomination at the 2019 Academy Awards for her role in Little Women. But the only onscreen presence seemingly capable of matching Pugh’s elevated performance is Chris Pine. The film is at its strongest when these two share the screen, and its unfortunate that it doesn’t occur more often.
Don’t Worry Darling has moments of greatness. Yet each high point is quickly followed by a lull of mediocrity. Is it a weird story? Well, it certainly thinks it is. It strives to reach the mind bending levels of Lynch or Cronenberg, but only manages to skim the waters of those depths with recycled ideas. Much like the eggs that Alice crushes in her hands with a befuddled gaze, the movie is empty. It slaps you in the face with its intended messages, utilizing the grace of an elephant on a tight rope. And yet, despite all of its flaws, I (mostly) enjoyed myself while watching it.
It’s biggest crime is teasing us with glimpses of the movie Don’t Worry Darling might have been; a much better film just barely out of reach. With a few more editing passes and rewrites of the screenplay, this film may have achieved something significant. But as it stands, it’s an oddly paced movie with great moments, and no originality. 6/10