There should be a word for a surprise that isn’t really a surprise. An outrage? A Surlunk?
Whatever the word, that’s what happens in Don’t Worry Darling, Olivia Wilde’s follow-up to her great Booksmart. It’s a big pivot of this rough comedy. Darling is a dystopian chiller whose most intriguing twist is that it doesn’t adapt to current dystopian fare like The Hunger Games or Divergent, but rather to failed ’70s utopias like The Stepford Wives ” remind. or the novels The Other and Harvest Home by Thomas Tryon. Instead of a controlling government being the enemy, it seems that it’s friends and neighbors out to nab our protagonist.
She is Alice and is played by Florence Pugh, the other big addition to Darling. It’s no surprise to see Pugh play a troubled person trapped in an ominous, alien culture – perhaps you’ve seen her do exactly the same thing in the superior, unsettling “Midsommar”? — but she’s such an inventive performer and her casting is so inconsistent that she makes “Darling” worth watching.
There’s something childlike and violate about Pugh, traits that earned her an Oscar nomination for Little Women, but she also exudes a sly intelligence that makes us root for her. Alice definitely needs someone by her side as she begins to suspect that her and her husband Jack’s (Harry Styles) suburban community from the 1950s, where the main hobbies are competitive drinking and female empowerment, is hiding some dark secrets.
Here’s the problem: Wilde and the screenwriters miscalculated how to unveil these mysteries that are commonly hinted at in the opening moments. Darling is one of those movies — like The Fugitive, or a dozen Alfred Hitchcock titles — that wants us to flip whether the protagonist is delusional or correctly believes something sinister is happening. The answer becomes clear so early on in “Darling” that we spend about 90 minutes feeling like we’re way ahead of a movie that’s far too slow to transition into a revelation we’ve already revealed to ourselves.
There seems to have been a lot more off-screen drama than on-screen drama in “Darling,” but it occasionally comes to life. As the devilishly handsome leader of Alice’s planned community, Chris Pine’s theatricality stands out amidst the sallow, subdued atmosphere of the rest of the film, and Wilde brings much-needed humor to the supporting role of Alice’s enemy, whose intelligence is at odds with her willingness to conform subdue. Arianne Phillips’ costumes and mid-century locations – part of the film was shot in Palm Springs – are eye-catching.
But even the achingly all-too-familiar music, borrowing from songs like “Sing, Sing, Sing” and “The Oogum Boogum Song,” seems to send the message, “You’ve been down this vaguely spooky path before.” So get ready to be unimpressed.”
“Don’t worry darling”
** out of 4 stars
Rated: R for violence and language.
Where: In theatres.