If you were worried don’t worry darling is a perfectly usable piece of big screen madness. This slick psychodrama is a lustrous, stylishly surreal thriller that has something to say, with an endless choice of gorgeous fashions and Florence Pugh in excellent form. What more do you want?
In cinemas on Friday, September 23, Don’t Worry stars Darling Pugh as a glamorous 1950s housewife who lives a picture-perfect suburban life. She even has a trophy husband, played by pop star Harry Styles in a wardrobe of impeccable suits and enviable mid-century shirts. But none of the gossiping wives knows where their husbands drive to in their shiny Cadillacs each day, and Pugh begins to wonder what really drives the sleek, sinister leader of the sun-dappled desert town, played by Chris Pine, to his heart. No one else seems to care, darling, but there’s definitely something weird going on in this retro utopia.
Director Olivia Wilde slowly ramps up the unsettling aspects of this strange idyll, tormenting Pugh’s increasingly insecure housewife with teasing visions and growing paranoia. Wilde also plays one of the other wives, who is constantly armed with a cocktail and a sharp side eye. There’s a hint of The Stepford Wives about it, and you’ll probably also think of a range of mid-century melodramas and domestic chillers that stab at the suburban fantasy, from Rosemary’s Baby to Blue Velvet to Get Out.
So yeah, obviously you know there’s a twist. I can’t get through a short TV episode of black mirror or developer or stories from the loop without impatiently wishing someone to tell me the twist so I can make something more interesting. It’s a real feat to spin a thread that will keep viewers hooked for an entire film. Don’t Worry Darling mostly pulls it off: As John Powell’s unnerving score meshes with classic 1950s pop cuts that underscore the deliciously stylish oddity, I found myself half-hoping to have no explanation at all. There’s only a limited choice of endings for these types of stories, and too literal a solution rarely does the mood justice.
As the film premiered at film festivals over the past few weeks, the bizarre happenings on screen have been matched by extraordinary happenings among the film’s director and stars. It’s not worth repeating theatre, but it’s bitterly ironic that the off-screen drama gave a boost to a film that could easily have gone unnoticed. “Don’t Worry Darling” is a medium sized film and an original story – something you don’t see in theaters that often anymore. Even with big stars on board, Don’t Worry Darling could easily have been one of those streaming flicks that everyone talks about for two years and gets excited about the trailer, and then one day you’re like, hey, what’s up with this movie happened, and realizes it came out three months ago on Netflix Prime Video Hulu Plus.
But don’t enjoy the messy gossip too much. The insane media circus threatens to overshadow the artistic value of a film directed by a woman to a degree that male filmmakers can hardly imagine. Even if you haven’t followed Spit and Spats, it’s simply impossible to go to Don’t Worry Darling without preconceived notions. You are not meant to be. Styles is the hottest pop star alive, Pugh is the hottest movie star. The sizzling pairing of Personas is the whole point.
At least it should be. Pugh demonstrates her talent with an almost casual ease, embodying theatrical agony and leaving the lasting impression that she’s got more in the tank. Pugh delivers an impressive, often mesmerizing performance that anchors the film even at its weakest moments.
And Harry Styles is there too.
When we’re charitable, this is one of those blessed occasions when a performer’s limitations somehow fit the character. Like Arnold Schwarzenegger, who can’t convince anyone he’s human but is perfect as an inarticulate barbarian or a stiffened robot. In Don’t Worry Darling, Styles’ pomade-clad husband is a fantasy character, so it’s okay that he struggles to inject some emotion into his lyrics. He’s less of a performer and more of a prop – another shiny piece of furniture that fills the set, like a stylish rug or lamp: beautiful, empty and always in the background.
At some point during the film I thought of Matt Smith’s role in Last Night in Soho. Like Don’t Worry Darling, Last Night in Soho is an ambiguously fantastical drama about a woman caught in a whirlpool of retro glamor and male violence. Smith played the subtle-tongued, precisely cut seducer who embodied a seething mix of sexuality, freedom, jealousy and menace. Here, Chris Pine delivers all of those things, because Style sure doesn’t.
Giving Styles the benefit of the doubt and casting such an attractive stage actor and delightfully playful dress wearer will undermine the retro masculinity of Pine, of Jon Hamm in Mad Men, of Sean Connery’s James Bond (as featured on a poster in the film). A scene that plays to Styles’ acting strengths as it puts him squarely in the spotlight offers a touch of criticism for the way he’s made to frolic in front of us. That’s just one of the many ideas sloshing around Don’t Worry Darling like ice cubes from a cocktail glass.
These ideas may not be particularly subtle or original, but at least they are there some under sharkskin suits and pinup dresses. Whether the movie makes sense with those themes is another question, but the whole thing turns out to be rooted in seething contemporary fury.
So the music, the clothes and at least one of the stars are worth your time. Don’t Worry Darling, while far from the sum of its parts, is a perfectly entertaining B-movie.
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