Don’t Worry Darling, the second film directed by actor/director Olivia Wilde after her directorial debut Booksmart made a splash, shows Wilde taking on a different genre and acting as well as directing. The film, written by Booksmart scribe Katie Silberman from a story developed with Carey and Shane Van Dyke (grandchildren of Dick), introduces viewers to an idyllic world that, expectedly, turns out to be hiding some dark secrets.
The film’s cast is full of stars, from Oscar-nominee Florence Pugh and Harry Styles as the leads to Chris Pine as the head of the community, with appearances from Wilde, Gemma Chan, and Nick Kroll. The setting is an all-too-perfect 50s suburban world making the entire film a wonder. There are gorgeous classic cars, stunning mid-century architecture, and chic fashions for the men and women on screen. Even the surrounding desert is beautifully shot in a way that evokes cinemascope westerns.
The only thing that doesn’t fit the aesthetic, or so it seems, is the heavy electronic score from John Powell. The score often melds with the film’s sound design, creating a sense of omnipresence to the music that’s unnerving and thrilling, especially as startling sound cues turn into lengthier compositions.
It’s a beautiful film, filled with beautiful people, but sadly that’s not enough.
We’ve Been Here Before
The community in this magical neighborhood in the middle of the desert where men go to work every day and women stay home immediately brings to mind Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives. That’s not necessarily a problem; other films have mined the horror of suburbia, before and since the release of The Stepford Wives, with varying degrees of success. The issue is that the first half or so of Don’t Worry Darling feels too closely related to that iconic text.
The community exists so that women can be women and men can be men. It’s “the way things are supposed to be,” we hear Pine say in a voiceover at one point. The women are essential members of this society insofar as they support their husbands, but the most individuality they are afforded are the dishes they make and the dresses they buy. Pugh’s Alice begins to question things after her friend Margaret (Kiki Layne) says things are not right, and she witnesses a plane crash in the desert outside the community.
The men and women of the community, of course, separate themselves from Margaret, including Alice, even as she begins to believe that something may be wrong. But when Margaret dies, Alice becomes convinced and begins to investigate. Unfortunately, this portion of the film feels slow, perhaps not by any fault of the filmmakers but simply because we have seen it so many times before. In a post-Black Mirror world, the investigation of an idyllic world isn’t as interesting as it once was. We’ve seen it played out too many times and too quickly for a film to spend as much time on it as Don’t Worry Darling does.
Don’t Worry Darling becomes something unique, or at least more interesting, when Chris Pine’s Frank decides to antagonize Alice. While the community gaslights her about what she has seen, he supports her questioning; in fact, he almost begs her to challenge him. This antagonism leads to a dinner party scene that is transcendent.
The two both attempt to convince the party of their truth, but Frank already has everyone on his side, so Alice is already at a disadvantage. No matter what Alice says, only one person at the table (one of the other women) will entertain her questions and criticisms of the world they inhabit. It’s a brilliant scene, and both Pugh and Pine are fantastic in it (as they are throughout the film). But it’s the only scene that manages to feel new and exciting in the entirety of the film.
Earlier scenes between Jack and Alice, where they fiercely and excitedly make love, are genuinely erotic and bring into question whether the film will turn out to be a modern erotic thriller. Sadly this eroticism disappears after the first twenty or thirty minutes. That’s all the more disappointing given that there is a palpably charged moment between Alice and Frank’s wife Shelley (Gemma Chan) early in the film that seems to promise things to come.
The combination of aesthetic accomplishment and brief thrilling moments mean that Don’t Worry Darling is far from a failure. There is greatness here. But it’s held down by its overlong first half and a script that doesn’t offer anything we haven’t seen before.
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This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Kyle Logan studied philosophy and now constantly overthinks music and movies.
He’s a film and television critic and general pop culture writer who has written for Cultured Vultures, Chicago Film Scene, Castle of Chills, and Filmotomy. Kyle has covered virtual film festivals including the inaugural Nightstream festival in 2020 and the 2021 Fantasia Film Festival. Kyle is interested in horror films, animation, Star Wars, and Adventure Time, as well as older genre films written and directed by queer people and women, particularly those from the 1970s and 80s. Along with writing, Kyle organizes a Queer Film Challenge on Letterboxd.