Don't Worry Darling
WHERE TO WATCH:
Now showing in cinema
WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
A 1950s housewife living with her husband in a utopian experimental community begins to worry that his glamorous company could be hiding disturbing secrets.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
If you are into film and terminally online, it would have been hard to miss the insane behind-the-scenes and press tour drama that has swirled around the psychological thriller Don't Worry Darling. The messy relationship between director Olivia Wilde and leading man Harry Styles, her custody papers being served on-stage at CinemaCon, the Shia LaBeouf drama, Florence Pugh's refusal to do any interviews, the infamous Spitgate and memeified Chris Pine being generally checked-out at press events - at this point, you'd need a book to understand this hilarious disaster.
But in all this mess, the actual film has gotten somewhat lost, seemingly review-bombed to smithereens by who knows (Styles fans??) and most likely set to only make bank at the box office because of this insane spectacle and audience's morbid curiosity. Even I wanted to watch Don't Worry Darling more because of it.
Now that it's finally hitting theatres, one hoped it was either a hot mess or a cinematic masterpiece to fit with the online narrative. Unfortunately, it's a film that makes you second-guess yourself on whether it's good or bad, instead taking the boring middle way of being just fine.
It's a hard film to review without giving away spoilers as they're an integral part of what makes it good or bad, but from the trailers, you'll know that it's about a husband and wife - Alice and Jack - living in an idyllic 50s town nearby a top-secret project called Victory. While all the men work at the mysterious company, the women look after the households, attend parties and generally live peak housewife life. That is, until Alice spies something in the desert and starts questioning everything about her carefully crafted reality.
The whole film is marketed around its big twist, and so far, the spoilers have been kept to a minimum on the internet. I was hoping for something truly bizarre or horrific, and while the true extent of the nature of Victory was a surprise, you figure out the general gist of it all far too quickly. If the film had leaned into its horror elements more, the impact of the twist would have been more visceral and shocking, and this film was in dire need of giving its audience a good jolt.
Beyond the unimaginative twist, it was an interesting film that took a very creative route when it came to its striking cinematography and set design, using bright colours in this desert landscape to great effects visually and thematically. The score and sound design were incredibly immersive and experimental and should hopefully garner some more nominations for the already award-winning John Powell. In crafting the look and feel of a film, Wilde has a unique eye for building her cinematic worlds, although she needs to unlearn some male gaze tendencies that crop up from time to time in her work.
This was the only thing that sometimes dampened the otherwise phenomenal performance of Pugh, literally dragging poor Styles along as she carried every scene with reverie. She perfectly taps into a kaleidoscope of emotional range that could easily overwhelm less experienced actors, a perfect fit for the confused yet determined Alice. Styles, on the other hand, had the emotional range of a bucket, trying desperately to crack some secret acting code using the wrong cypher. His character Jack had one note - sexy - and weirdly had very little dialogue, perhaps a conscious choice from the edit suite. The role desperately needed an actor with chemistry and gravitas that could match Pugh's intensity, a sort of Dane DeHaan that can swing both weird and charming. This is especially apparent compared to Pine, who nailed that in-between as a villain like any seasoned actor would. You weren't sure if you wanted to punch him or make out with him, and that complexity was sourly needed with Jack.
A special shout-out to Gemma Chan; she had the smallest two scenes and delivered the biggest punches. She should have been given a far juicier role, one that could have been Alice's confidant instead of Wilde's bland character.
I already know there's going to be a lot of discourse over whether Don't Worry Darling is good or bad, and the answer will be different for everyone. For this critic, I enjoyed the craftsmanship that went into it and some of the talented cast but was saddened by its lost potential as a truly mind-bending, almost-horror. It's unfortunate that the real-life drama will impact audiences' judgment of the film, but it's hard to separate the art from the creators. In this case, I envy the non-online people who get to enjoy it untainted.
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE:
Don't Worry Darling is showing in cinemas nationwide.