Don’t Worry Darling is the 1950s set mystery-thriller about the trappings of the perfect world.
Young married couple Alice (Florence Pugh) and Jack Chambers (Harry Styles) live an idealistic American dream in the isolated desert oasis community of Victory, California. Everything a woman could ever need or want is provided for by their husband’s employer, the enigmatic Frank (Chris Pine) in exchange for their daily work at the ‘Victory Project’. Discouraged from asking any questions about their situation, the women of Victory live carefree lives of dinner parties, shopping sprees and drinking to excess. That is, until Alice begins to wonder what is going on, why she must shun anybody who doesn’t fit in and what exactly is this ‘Victory Project’ that her husband is working on.
Olivia Wilde’s sophomore directing effort which sees her reunite with screenwriter Katie Silberman, is a much more ambitious project after 2019’s ‘Booksmart’. Unfortunately, its release has been overshadowed by inescapable rumours of various behind the scenes controversies and tensions on set. More is it a pity that while the film falls short story wise, it is still a spectacularly beautiful movie with some stellar performances.
Filmed in Palm Springs, California the town of Victory has a gorgeous yet oddly artificial feeling to it which suits the story perfectly. Oscar nominated cinematographer Matthew Libatique captures the mid-century art deco design, brightly colourful vehicles, and picket fences which all look like something straight from a post war shopping catalogue. Although against the backdrop of stark desert wilderness and mountains, we can’t escape the uneasy feeling that something isn’t at all natural about this ideal picturesque society.
The extremely talented Arianne Phillips does an impeccable job of outfitting the cast in 1950s garb. The wardrobe on display features glamorous dresses and gowns for the ladies as well as suits so fine, they make Sinatra look like a hobo. Without being much of a fashion connoisseur, I was still greatly impressed by the costume design and its ability to make an already stunning cast even prettier.
Don’t Worry Darling’s strongest asset however is Florence Pugh who manages to carry the film effortlessly. From content housewife to a woman on the verge of a mental breakdown, Alice runs through a gambit of emotions. Without needing to know too much about her, we instinctively like Alice and want her to succeed in the face of overwhelming adversity. Between this and ‘Midsommar’, Pugh shows in such a short career that she has already become one of the most capable leading ladies working today.
Facing off against this is scene stealing Chris Pine in a deliciously smarmy role which allows him to dial it up to 11 as the alpha male to end all alpha males. As Frank, this cult leader villain type figure with self-aggrandising monologues, Pine hams it up and seems to relish in every moment. Oddly enough, I felt this was more ‘Shatner-esque’ chewing of the scenery than he did in ‘Star Trek’, and I loved it.
The weak link unfortunately is Harry Styles through little fault of his own. While he gives a serviceable performance, he is still greatly outclassed by both Pine and especially by Pugh. As the plot thickens and emotions run hot, the stellar performance of his love interest serves to highlight his inexperience as an actor. This is exasperated by the weakness of the writing which cuts him off at the knees with an underdeveloped character.
The big disappointment of Don’t Worry Darling’s script is that while it has lofty ideas, it can’t deliver them in an original way. Don’t Worry Darling’s core concepts all feel half-baked and it’s like they’ve been previously explored deeper in other films, and that’s because they have. The film’s derivative nature makes its 2-hour runtime taxing and not enough is done in the home stretch to make it all worth it.
Don’t Worry Darling is a thoroughly stunning film in all ways except its story. Even the shortcoming of its leading man is only so apparent because of the brilliance of its leading lady. But no matter how beautiful the film is or how talented its cast, they can only elevate the script so much before its own weaknesses become clear.