by Paul Deeter
The process of balancing out a major cast and elevated script like Don't Worry Darling attempts to achieve is a big undertaking especially for a new director. Olivia Wilde, former model and working actor made her major directorial debut just 3 years prior with the quickfire spunky high school feature Booksmart. Booksmart works well because Wilde gets the humor and energy of indie comedy and sculpts out the two female leads with true care and confidence backed by excellent performances by Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever. So for Wilde's sophomore outing she swings wide for the fences with an A-List cast and ambitious story (not so coincidentally released in the beginnings of Awards Season). But Don't Worry Darling is, don't worry not a prestige film. Nor is it an entirely cohesive product of the parts that work, which I'll dive into more later. Don't Worry Darling is a very difficult film to review, as its been not too kindly received critically, but better from audiences. Maybe it will be a box office hit, at least within its genre, but time will tell. As for now, I can only tell you my construed interpretation of this feature, and tell you just what works and what doesn't.
It would be unfair to dive into the actual review for this film before actually setting up the context of some of the controversy surrounding it. I have written many reviews and will continue to do so without prefacing the behind-the-scenes workings and the project's undertaking itself. The problem with Don't Worry Darling is that it has so much backing baggage its hard not to ignore the glaring production issues when discussing the film. And where to begin with the issues that contribute to Darling's troubling existence? I'll go ahead and link some of the articles that actually delve into the specifics (and rumors) of the heated argument er... screaming match on set that occurred between Wilde and lead star Florence Pugh after bubbling tension involving Wilde's concern Pugh was not doing enough to promote the film..."When the trailer for the movie was released on July 21, Pugh did not post it to her Instagram story and instead promoted Oppenheimer, a Christopher Nolan-directed movie she is appearing in that is slated to be released in 2023. That same day, Wilde praised Pugh in an Instagram post—with no response or interaction from Pugh". Of course in today's age the difference between a show out and a no show could be guaranteed via the amount of traction a film receives not just in the media but also on social platforms as well.
Island of Dr Moreau this may not be, but tense performances from actors and something involving a cast member allegedly spitting on another cast member (I don't know at this point) the buzz of Don't Worry Darling existed largely on the amount of controversy it attracted. And while the average viewer or the trainwreck enthusiast such as myself might pay ticket price to see a film like this, the critically inclined probably would turn away because of the ugly 39% Rotten Tomatoes consensus of 223 reviews. And while this trainwreck enthusiast/semi-seasoned critic was pulled in to buying a ticket on the Friday of the film's release, I didn't quite leave getting what I desired from either end. As I mentioned Don't Worry Darling is an unusual film to critique, and I won't give it a letter grade as I don't really dig the concept. But let's stop worrying about how much more reading needs be done and get to it already.
Don't Worry Darling starts on a boozy party scene washed in ambiguously post war era decor without dropping a date for context of the setting. The booze flows heavy throughout the entire film as does the imposing soundtrack which is at worst: loud and overwrought and at best: experimental. Let me preface by saying less is more sometimes and a film does not need a backing track on every scene in the film. Darling does not take that into account, and much like other elements of the film, lays the music on thick. All that being said, Florence Pugh enters the scene balancing a drink on her head in a drinking game with fellow costar Olivia Wilde and to the audience of her husband Harry Styles. Also Nick Kroll is there, but there's not much to really say on that. The overall honeymoon phase is endless with Styles' Jack and Pugh's Alice; often scenes either begin or end in fornication interrupting a perfectly cooked meal or otherwise clean household (WATCH THE CARPET!!) and carries the element of youth and happiness of the two. Wilde plays a neighbor of semi-envy, with a loving husband but two kids two juggle, of which Alice and Jack have none. And who needs children when Alice has the perfect house and husband, and Jack has his perfect job. Jack works in an ambiguous corporation not unlike the style of Adam Scott's role in Severance, where every going on about what the company is actually doing is kept under wraps. The theme of overruling corporations is oft overused but still quite relevant and it does keep the audience guessing with some fun to the mystery of it all.
So the mystery emerges in the secret nature of the company, Jack's secretive life outside of the house and yolkless eggs. Weird things are happening around the house, and that's before Alice finds herself in the desert (an off-limits for housewives area) and following the trail of a plane crash. Alice finds something but we don't know what; the idea of the hatch from Lost or any other deus ex machina that trends so well these days. But what does it all mean? Well it means Alice has hallucinations and the audience has to bore through student-film style experimental shots of ballet dancers dancing in black and white, and an over-exposed iris, etc. Darren Aronofsky is the most immediate director I can think of that this is borrowing heavy-handedly from, with the elements of spooky ballerinas being done so well in Black Swan. But the movie does keep the audience busy when its not overdoing its visuals. The Stepford Sister elements to the womens' duty in the neighborhood is concerning as is Alice's worsening behavior. This includes her wrapping her entire head in saran wrap and almost suffocating, which was a nice moment of shocking A-List risky performance. And to that point, Florence Pugh is really putting a big performance through here, which is impressive given her coldness to supporting the film in its post-production. Worse actors would have dialed it in with emotionless portrayals of their characters, and Pugh just cannot act poorly. She's a phenomenal victim of the horrors of her movies while always emerging powerfully in the final act. The final act or any of the answers to this film are not something I'm going to share here, but let me just say... its worth the wait. Its not jaw-droppingly new territory or nearly and is not as twisty narratively as better films of this year (I'm looking at you Barbarian). There's a lot to enjoy here as the story unravels and yet?
It's hard to say. Don't Worry Darling is showing to be a clear audience friendly experience, with true merit perhaps not artistically but in a psychological sense. Even if I wanted to I couldn't put a star rank or letter grade to it, because its just such a fun mess. I encourage the curious or even lightly uninterested to experience maybe a cheaper matinee of this feature, as there's not a lot else out as of now to compete. Perhaps Wilde will establish herself in future outings as the prestigious director she attempts to be here, but in the meantime we've got some cheesy popcorn level fun to be had here.