Things are not as they seem in the town of Victory. Don’t Worry Darling is the sophomore feature from director Olivia Wilde
Make no doubt about it, whether you’d planned to watch it or not you’ve probably heard of Don’t Worry Darling. Due to a slew of backstage celebrity gossip that hit the headlines when the film premiered at Venice Film Festival a couple of weeks ago, Don’t Worry Darling has become one of the most talked about films of the year if not the decade. But whilst the on set drama might get viewers in the door, does this glamorous thriller have the goods to leave them satisfied?
Alice and Jack Chambers (Oscar nominee Florence Pugh and international phenomenon Harry Styles) are a loved up young couple living in the picture perfect 1950s town of Victory, California. Victory is a company town created and populated by Jack’s mysterious employers. The men of the town leave each morning to go and work at the ‘Victory Project’ while their wives stay home to keep house, shop and gossip. But for all the sunshine, cocktails and white picket fences, it very quickly becomes clear that Victory is not the utopian community it seems.
Chris Pine plays Frank, the founder of the Victory Project and de facto mayor of the town who charms his employees with endless psychobabble about building a better future together. A creepy figure with the inexplicable magnetism of a cult leader he keeps the residents of Victory in a plush prison, continually warning them not to step outside the ‘safety’ of the town and not to spill any company secrets.
When Alice see’s a series of suspicious things and her neighbour’s gaslight her into believing they are the result of her own mental health issues, she starts to suspect that things are not as they seem in Victory and there is a grand conspiracy at play. Determined to uncover the truth of the Victory Project and Frank, Alice makes herself the target of a deadly higher power.
Don’t Worry Darling is a technically and artistically beautiful film. Stunningly shot in the California desert; Wilde makes great use of mid-century modern sets and perfectly coiffured and costumed young actors to create an incredibly stylish picture that is sure to be appearing on everyone’s moodboards this autumn. Kitchy Hitchcockian transitions paired with an unnerving choral heavy score are a nice touch to make this feel like a genuinely vintage thriller.
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Unfortunately, the love and care that has been put into the look and feel of this film doesn’t seem to carry through to the script or storytelling, which suffer from a serious lack of originality. Don’t Worry Darling is a mash up of lots of ideas you’ve seen before and seen done better – The Stepford Wives, The Truman Show and The Matrix all obvious comparisons. Whilst Wilde clearly wanted to use the setting to start a conversation about modern misogyny and gender politics (she’s said that Pine’s character Frank is based on Jordan Peterson) the writing is just too clumsy to really say anything interesting.
Florence Pugh turns in another fantastic performance as a woman driven to her wits end. Her incredible, multilayered Alice is the bright spot that elevates this shaky film. Styles on the other hand seems woefully miscast and just doesn’t have the intensity required for the role. When the two of them have fight scenes, their mismatched energies become more glaringly obvious – Pugh gloriously firing on all cylinders whilst Styles remains rather dead behind the eyes. Is it a purposeful character choice? Unfortunately, you just can’t tell if it’s Styles or Jack who are out of their depth in this film.
Having said all this – I’ve read some of the early reviews and Don’t Worry Darling certainly isn’t anywhere near as awful as some are making out. It’s style over substance and likely to leave you thinking wistfully about the furniture rather than analysing the plot, but it’s an entertaining enough two hours with very good performances from Pugh and Pine – even if you do wish they’d been given something more original to work with. A taught psychological thriller wrapped up in a glamourous exterior, Don’t Worry Darling is sure to find its audience, and if the media coverage is anything to go by it’s likely to be a big one.
Don’t Worry Darling is out in cinemas on 23rd September 2022