After what seems to be a disproportionate amount of behind the scenes brouhaha, Don’t Worry Darling arrives in cinemas in a wake of a public Shia Labeouf firing, a Harry Styles hiring and a bizarre online debate about whether or not Chris Pine was spat on during a press conference – but is Olivia Wilde’s second movie after Booksmart good enough to rise about all the noise to stand on it’s own two feet?
Essentially a tale about female repression and control much in the same vein as The Stepford Wives (the Katherine Ross version, not the Nicole Kidman version), Don’t Worry Darling proves to be a noticably unsteady example of girl power that balances a typically impressive showing from Florence Pugh with some enthusiastic, but clumsy spot of world building that makes this paranoia thriller a stylish yet empty affair.
In the sun baked, remote company town of Victory, California, Alice and Jack Chambers live an idyllic life full of all the mod cons, scenic surroundings and bucket-loads of passionate sex. Jack, like all the men in town, work at Victory Headquarters, apparently tinkering on a top secret project and all the women stay at home to do housework, cook up a slap-up meal for their hard working hubbies and drink cocktails by the pool with their girl buddies while spreading gossip about the couples that are struggling. However, one day, Alice starts to notice that something is a little off when, after following an apparent plane crash, she is forced to enter the restricted area that the housewives are denied to approach and after encountering a strange dome, he seemingly perfect life starts to crumble.
Experiencing bizarre hallucinations, Alice’s suspicions get a sizable boost when a former friend of hers, one who had a very public nervous breakdown that cost her the life of her son, apparently commits suicide right in front of her by slashing her throat. However, despite what she saw, a conspiracy is seemingly put in place to suggest that the woman is alive and well while Alice is progressively gaslit into thinking she’s losing her mind by her husband and town physician Dr. Collins.
As Jack’s star continues to rise at Victory, Alice decides to directly lock horns with Victory’ founder, Frank, whose charisma borderlines on that of a well coiffed cult leader and the results are catastrophic.
Cracking the shiny allure of Victory’s seductive facade, Alice comes to discover the unthinkable truth about the real nature of this example of this seductive patriarchy and realises that she and every other woman in town is under some form of insidious control that every man in town is apparently in on.
While watching Don’t Worry Darling, you can’t help but think of Jorden Peele’s Get Out, another thriller loaded with social commentary that covers a particular group of people being cruelly manipulated by straight, white men. But where Peele infused his mind control epic with knowing humour and genuinely unnerving imagery in order to draw his audience into the creepy goings on by gradually unspooling its malevolent conspiracy, Don’t Worry Darling is content to simply drown any tension in its admittedly stylish presentation that openly mocks 60’s tropes. It’s kind of low hanging fruit, but it looks great and Wilde obviously a good eye for this kind of thing, but her pacing is way off, content to rinse and repeat Alice bouncing from being suspicious about her hollow lifestyle to experiencing shocking visions as her sanity erodes. In fact, the movie seems to be so fond of this rut of 60’s life and imaginative happenstances, it gives up it’s big twist in a way that sort of mutes the suprise in a way that kind of diffuses the expected shock.
With a SPOILER WARNING in full effect, the big reveal turns out that Victory doesn’t actually exist but is in fact a simulation created by Frank and Jack has made arrangements to have Alice inserted into it by force in order to continue their stalled relationship. While this Matrix-esque turn of events is a neat and concise way at looking at the control that certain men exert over women, the lax world building leaves you kind of wondering how it all is supposed to work instead of simply accepting it all as a metaphor for gas lighting and after all that effort, it ultimately comes across as a little obvious and a little empty.
However, while the concept kind of ends up eating itself, the whole enterprise is kept watchable by a central performance by the little blond dynamo the world knows as Florence Pugh. Pugh is an actress who has proven to be incredibly watchable since her career took off and watching her struggle against an entire reality dedicated to oppressing her is by far the best thing the movie has to offer.
Struggling to emerge from her all-encompassing shadow is pop sensation (and Olivia Wilde’s other half) Harry Styles, although to give him his due, he does decent work while being allowed to keep his actual accent. Still, he’s given far more to do than other charismatic cast members such as Nick Kroll and Gemma Chan, although Wilde amusingly/annoyingly chooses to give her character, the gossip flinging Bunny, a rushed backstory out of nowhere in the dying moments of the film to justify her involvement. As the arch antagonist (apparently based on Jordan Peterson), Chris Pine essentially channels Leonardo DiCaprio from The Wolf Of Wall Street if he were a Sean Connery era Bond villain who is trying to unite radicalized incels of the world to keep their women in order inside a fake, 60’s candyland.
It’s a tantalising concept, but despite the occasional disturbing set piece (not to mention a powerhouse central performance), Don’t Worry Darling ends up being more an example of of Don’t Bother Darling as it fumbles its conspiracy plot with sledgehammer metaphors.
Decent enough for a single viewing, Olivia Wilde’s mind control epic ironically doesn’t penetrate the brain long enough to be overly memorable to effectively put its more salient points across.