Don’t Worry Darling Review – Florence Pugh’s performance makes this tedious utopian mystery watchable

Don't Worry Darling Movie

Even if you just casually browse news or social media, one would be hard pressed NOT to hear any of the drama about this movie. I tried to tune it out but it’s virtually impossible. Well, in an industry where there’s no such thing as bad publicity, Olivia Wilde‘s sophomore effort could practically market itself thanks to all the hype surrounding it– from on-set dalliance, director-actress feud, spitgate, etc., etc. But at the end of the day, regardless of all the controveries, any film ought to be judged on its own merit.

Set in the 1950s, Don’t Worry Darling opens with a house party where everyone is having a good time. All decked out in their best cocktail attire, they’re all chugging endless champagne as they dance and schmooze jubilantly. We’re first introduced to its lead, Alice (Florence Pugh) as she is balancing drinks on a tray on top of her head. She’s able to do so for a bit, but then something knocks it over and all the drinks crash and shatter to the floor. It seems like a common thing that happens at a party, but that incident seems to be a harbinger of things to come.

Dont Worry Darling - Florence Pugh - Harry Styles

In Victory, an idyllic utopian company town in California, the sun is always shining and the grass and gardens are always meticulously kept. All the husbands work for a mysterious company led by an enigmatic man name Frank (Chris Pine) while the wives spend their days cleaning their homes while their husband are away, then cook and make love to their men when they return. Everyone can pretty much have whatever their heart desires–nice cars, beautiful houses, gorgeous dresses–so long as they follow company rules and most of all, stay within the border of the town. It’s Stepford Wives meet Black Mirror meets The Truman Show, as well as a bunch of other distopia-type films where nothing is ever what it seems.

Dont Worry Darling - Alice

Anything that looks and feels too good to be true usually means the opposite. Alice is plagued with nightmares and hallucinations that grow more and more disturbing, and after a curious incident involving a fellow housewife, she begins to get more suspicious about what it is her husband Jack (Harry Styles) actually does in the company. Alice’s suspicion continues to mount that she even go so far as breaking the biggest rule of them all, thus creating tension within the community.

There are certainly a plethora of intriguing ideas in Don’t Worry Darling, though we’ve likely seen them before in other shows and movies. But old concepts can still feel fresh and new if handled properly, but here, most of the ideas just pile up on top of one another that none gets fully developed. It’s clear that Wilde and Katie Silberman (whom she collaborated on her debut feature Booksmart) wants to tell a keenly-feminist story within the dystopia thriller sub-genre. Most of the women are perceptive while the men are oblivious, not to mention chauvinistic. There’s even that stereotypical reproach ‘don’t get hysterical’ – treating women who ask questions as being mentally unstable.

Dont Worry Darling - Chris Pine

Since this is only the first time I see Wilde’s work as a director, I’d say this is a pretty ambitious project for a sophomore effort. I’m not saying she doesn’t pull it off, as there are effective scenes and stylish flair that shows her directing chops. I think the way she displays extreme claustrophobia where characters are mentally suffocating is pretty bold, combined with stunning camera work by Matthew Libatique. At the same time, I think a little subtlety about an exercise in smoke and mirrors would go a long way. Some of the dialog are so verbose and so on-the nose, hitting you over the head with the same sentiment over and over. I have to say the score is pretty overpowering at times, though I’m usually a fan of composer John Powell’s work.

dontworrydarling-cooking-flo

As the audience is already one step ahead, it’s quite frustrating to watch the characters trying to catch up. Wilde doubles down on the nightmarish sequence which are shown over and over. The images of women dancing in circles forming the iris of an eye is captivating for a while but then it grows tiresome that it quickly loses its effectiveness. 

What kept me engaged throughout is Florence Pugh, the movie’s not-so-secret weapon. Whatever had happened between her and Shia LaBeouf, she certainly made the right decision in casing Miss Flo. Truth be told, Pugh makes the movie bearable for me. She is so immensely watchable that she’s able to carry, even elevate the movie even when the script doesn’t serve her well. So on that front, Wilde utilizes Pugh’s talent well here as she gets to display a gamut of emotion, from an incandescently happy wife to one who goes absolutely berserk as her world comes crumbling down. 

Don't Worry Darling - Gemma Chan

Now, the rest of the supporting cast are pretty much underutilized. Chris Pine is such a charismatic actor but he barely had much screen time here. It’s a shame as the few scenes he shares with Pugh is pretty darn riveting. It’s also fun to see them reunite after playing husband and wife in Outlaw King. Gemma Chan shows she can be quite threatening when she needs to be, but she has so little screen time here. Kiki Layne plays the only black character with a speaking role, Margaret, who senses something is afoot in Victory, but the way she’s written is so one-dimensional.

What about Harry? Well, Styles’ acting is not terrible per se, but he’s mostly out of his depth during the emotional scenes. Worst of all, he never quite sells the character for me as a seasoned actor would. Pugh runs (leaps & bounds) circles around him in pretty much every scene they do together. There’s barely any nuance in his performance, though his rabid fans likely won’t notice that. He does get to dance in this movie, though that frenetic scene is be set up as if something truly ominous is going to happen… but then nothing. I think that’s the major beef I have with Don’t Worry Darling, the ideas being presented just aren’t fully developed. It’s a high concept that’s more surface level as the script fails to explore it in a deeper level.

don't worry darling - Florence Pugh

As the curtain is peeled back by the end, I was left scratching my head even more. There are even more questions than answers, which leaves me wondering just what the whole point of it all. All in all, the off-screen drama of Don’t Worry Darling is definitely more fascinating and would likely be remembered far more than the movie itself.

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Have you seen Don’t Worry Darling? I’d love to hear what YOU think!

18 thoughts on “Don’t Worry Darling Review – Florence Pugh’s performance makes this tedious utopian mystery watchable

  1. I think I’ll wait it for it on TV soon though I still want to see Booksmart. I don’t know what kind of bullshit happened with Shia LaBeouf (who is a cancer to everything these days) but couldn’t Olivia Wilde gotten someone else instead of Harry Styles like Taron Egerton? I’ve only seen Styles in small roles as he was good in those bits that I saw. I want to judge the film on its own merits but all of this dirty laundry isn’t making me go ahead and see this immediately. Thank the film gods for allowing me to see something tomorrow in Moonage Daydream.

    Part of me wants to see if anyone film Pugh and Wilde fighting as I want to. Is the chaos in the level of Christian Bale in that awful Terminator movie or… is it in the level of the extreme meltdown that Klaus Kinski had on the set of Fitzcarraldo? The latter alone is great to watch but also scary knowing that Kinski was nuts.

    1. Shia LaBeouf certainly has a problematic past that he seems to be atoning for. Hey everyone deserves a second chance, so I’m not going to immediately write him off as cancer. I do think he’s telling the truth that he was not fired, I think even Olivia is now walking back on that statement as she couldn’t even confirm that she fired him on Colbert. Shia is definitely eons better as an actor than Harry Stiles could ever be, and I agree I think Taron Edgerton would’ve been terrific in the role to replace him. Man, I’d LOVE to see him paired with Florence one day, I think that would be dynamite!

      I think Bale’s headspace must have been somewhere else during that Terminator movie. He seems much calmer and cordial now and everyone seems to love working w/ him in Thor 4, Hmmm I’m now curious to read about Klaus Kinski on the set of Fitzcarraldo, never heard of that before.

        1. It’s impossible for anyone to judge just what someone is going through. I do not condone his behavior but I always like to give people the benefit of the doubt. Seriously, I am totally opposed to CANCEL culture, that is one of the worst things about social media. So no, I do not agree with you about him being deleted. That is such a harsh thing to say to anyone, I’d rather show more grace to people as nobody is perfect. Even someone like Ezra Miller who has done really horrible things and doesn’t seem to be as remorseful STILL deserves a second chance. In any case, I do hope Shia gets the help he needs as I think he is a talented actor.

          1. My issue with Shia isn’t just the fact that he’s an asshole, an abuser, and a really vain person. His recent conversion to Catholicism is really just him feeding his ego while the brand of Catholicism he has latched onto is one that is very controversial as it is endorsed by Mel Gibson who is someone I rather not be associated with. That’s a completely different story.

  2. When the studio’s PR department decided to “leaked” the behind the scenes drama during the shoot of the movie, you know the actual movie won’t be that good. Lol! I thought the trailer was intriguing but sounds like the movie didn’t deliver. I might give it a watch when it hits streaming.

    I totally forgot that Pugh was in Outlaw King, then again that was a forgettable film. Ha ha!

    1. I guess it’s possible. that the studio’s PR dept ‘leaked’ the bts drama but it sounds like it’s mostly Olivia Wilde’s doing. Pugh was memorable even in her brief scenes in Outlaw King but what made me love her was Fighting With My Family, she’s phenomenal in that movie!

      1. I think this was all coordinated by the studio PR team. I never heard about this film before the whole behind the scenes drama started to appear online. They need to generate something about the film so why not leaked something that may or may not happened during the shoot to get people talking about it. It seems to have worked since we’re all talking about it. Lol!

        1. Well actually I read that the studio was a bit worried that the controversies could’ve backfired when Olivia and Florence seem to have very different idea about the focus of the movie should be about. I think because of Harry Styles, the movie had been quite buzzy even for general audiences like me who don’t care at all about the singer. In any case, we shall see how the box office turns out for this movie, it’s possible Harry’s rabid fans would turn up in droves to make it a hit regardless of its quality.

  3. Vitali Gueron

    I agree with your review, Ruth. The off-screen drama of Don’t Worry Darling was far more interesting than the actual product. But as you said, Florence Pugh is transformative as Alice and her amazing acting plus impressive driving skills in the final parts of the movie are what I’ll remember the most.

    1. Hey Vitali! Florence is fabulous isn’t she? I’ve become such a massive fan of hers since Fighting With My Family.

      As for the driving, well I don’t know how much of that is hers or the stunt team though, but at least she pulls it off believably.

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    1. She’s terrific in everything I’ve seen her in! If only she’s got a good co-star in this movie instead of one who’s famous but could barely match her intensity.

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