Don’t Worry Darling Review

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Ever since it was announced in late 2019, Don’t Worry Darling has been among my most anticipated movies. Director Olivia Wilde was fresh off one of my favorite teen comedies, Booksmart. My excitement only rose when news broke that the film had enlisted Florence Pugh, who’d become a certified star between her performances in Midsommar and Little Women. Wilde’s follow-up wasn’t going to be Booksmart 2.0 either, but rather, a psychological thriller. All signs seemingly pointed to a contemporary classic that took chances. Then the backstage drama started to make headlines.

To be clear, this review’s purpose isn’t to analyze Shia LaBeouf’s exit, Wilde’s dynamic with Pugh, or the infamous CinemaCon serving. However, that should make for a gripping documentary, podcast, or Ryan Murphy miniseries down the line. Critics should separate the artist from the art, which is what I intend to do with Don’t Worry Darling. While I can get past the discourse surrounding the film, it’s harder to ignore the other projects that Don’t Worry Darling calls to mind. Although the film is well-crafted and well-acted (for the most part), it’s not the breath of fresh air one would hope for.

From Ellen Burstyn in Requiem for a Dream, to Natalie Portman in Black Swan, to Jennifer Lawrence in Mother!, cinematographer Matthew Libatique has a knack for filming women either losing their minds or living in a mad world. When we first meet Pugh’s Alice, we’re not sure which group she’ll fall into. Either way, the camera loves her. Alice seems to be living the ideal suburban life for a 50s housewife. Or at least what the media portrayed as the ideal life back then. Her days consist of cleaning the house and cooking gourmet meals for her husband Jack (Harry Styles). If she’s lucky, Jack will let Alice drive the car. Her wardrobe consists of designer outfits and Jack’s shirt. (Seriously, has any woman ever actually worn a man’s button-down shirt as PJs?) In any case, the costume design bursts off the screen like a Technicolor rainbow.

While the wives dedicate their time to shopping, cocktails, and gossip, the husbands drive into the desert where a mysterious project is being conducted. The neighborhood is led by Chris Pine’s Frank, who strikes just the right balance between charmer and sociopath. Eventually, Alice becomes suspicious of Frank, Jack, and the world surrounding her. The first two-thirds of Don’t Worry Darling hook us in with atmospheric production values, a foreboding sense of dread, and a nostalgic style that’s comforting until it becomes creepy. As strong as the buildup is, the audience gets an idea of where the story is headed early on. And unlike Barbarian, it goes in the exact direction one would expect.

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Don’t Worry Darling draws parallels to The Stepford Wives, The Truman Show, The Matrix, The Village, Inception, Antebellum, WandaVision, and virtually every episode of The Twilight Zone. Wilde even acknowledged that the film was inspired by some of those projects. Familiarity doesn’t matter if you bring something new to the formula. Don’t Worry Darling distinguishes itself with hypnotic visuals and Pugh’s mesmerizing performance. For a film that acts as if it has something new and bold to say, though, it can feel like reinventing the wheel. The wheel successfully gets the film past the finish line, but there are some speed bumps along the way.

As she did for Booksmart, Katie Silberman updated the screenplay for Don’t Worry Darling following its time on the Black List. It’s hard to say how the original spec script read, but Silberman’s script isn’t as smart as it thinks it is. Styles also feels miscast as Jack. Although you can tell that he’s trying, his accent is a constant distraction and his charisma can’t compete with Pugh’s. For all the film’s faults, Don’t Worry Darling is a testament to Pugh’s excellence. She single-handedly holds our investment from start to finish. Even when the film is at its most predictable, we want to see Alice climb back up the rabbit hole. With another actress in the role, that might not be the case. With Pugh and the below-the-line artists giving 150%, though, Don’t Worry Darling is a commendable picture. It could’ve been a great one, however.

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About Nick Spake

Nick Spake has been working as an entertainment writer for the past ten years, but he's been a lover of film ever since seeing the opening sequence of The Lion King. Movies are more than just escapism to Nick, they're a crucial part of our society that shape who we are. He now serves as the Features Editor at Flickreel and author of its regular column, 'Nick Flicks'.

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