You could drive a vintage car through the plot holes (and Harry Styles’s performance) in ‘Don’t Worry Darling,’ but it’s got something to say
Don’t Worry Darling would have crushed if it had come out in the 1970s.
Olivia Wilde’s movie arrives in theaters suffering from all the drama surrounding it, and a snowball effect of critics outdoing one another with scathing reviews, which are fun to write. I’m here to argue it’s not that bad! For a lot of its running time, it serves up entertainingly ominous glamour. But like its Mad Men-coiffed characters, DWD is a little behind the times, and ultimately not great at articulating its motives.
Alice (Florence Pugh) and Jack (Harry Styles) live in this southwestern, 1950s planned community called The Victory Project. Everyone’s house is the exact same cut of mid-century fabulous, with the kind of ambiance you’d love to find in a Palm Springs airbnb. Cocktails are omnipresent, people’s children aren’t. Men go to work, women clean and cook and go to an apparently mandatory ballet class. Everyone seems thrilled with this arrangement, until a couple of the housewives start asking questions.
I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated the arrival of Chris Pine onscreen as much as I did here. He’s Frank, the Victory Project founder, who exhorts his members to parrot back to him how much they’re all “changing the world.” Pine radiates a smug douchiness that does, indeed, recall real-life men’s rights activists like Jordan Peterson, whom Wilde has called out as an inspiration for Frank. And Pine’s got the handsomeness to pull off leading a cult, for sure.
The real problem is, today’s audiences likely know where this is all headed. Even if you haven’t seen The Stepford Wives, or Rosemary’s Baby, or modern variants like Get Out, I bet you’ve got some solid guesses. Pugh’s character begins to suspect that everything is not as it seems. She spots a couple of weird inconsistencies in her reality, like a carton of eggs that are only shells, and a plane that seems to warp in the sky before it crashes behind the mountains. When her friend Margaret (KiKi Layne) suffers a breakdown, Alice knows something is deeply off in Victory land. Wilde capably presents this progression in a series of plush, well-scored sequences, but it’s not like you don’t know what’s coming–it’s only the details that will vary, and not all are terribly well-fleshed out.
How much you enjoy DWD will also depend on how happy you are in the what’s-going-on zone, because Wilde takes her time getting to a reveal. Pugh is a fantastically watchable actress, and she pulls you in. No one has ever more stylishly wrapped their own head in Saran Wrap. And Harry Styles? Well, the man looks good in a classic suit, and he’s really pulling off that British accent! When called upon to branch out dramatically, though, he falters. It’s easy to imagine how a Shia LaBeouf in the role would have improved DWD, LaBeouf’s awful real-world reputation aside.
Wilde fares less well with the reveal, which fails to answer such questions as, how exactly? And why did that character do that thing? And what came after [plot point that everyone in my audience cheered for]? I cannot say more, but it really feels as if about twenty minutes of crucial footage toward the end got cut, or should have existed initially and didn’t. As it is, there are plot holes big enough to swallow up those gorgeous vintage sports cars you see zooming through the open desert in the trailer.
Wilde’s first film as a director, Booksmart, was a clever update on the teen movie, with two female protagonists steeped in Gen Z feminism. Here, she seems to backpedal into a more obvious conversation around antiquated gender roles. But then, we’re living in a world where a bunch of men seem super eager to send us all back into exactly the kind of implausible mid-century bubble Frank has envisioned. For all the eye-rolling about Don’t Worry Darling, it’s not wildly off base about that.