I never thought I would see the day.
Let me elaborate – I never thought I would see the day when the drama surrounding the production of “Don’t Worry Darling” wouldn’t be the only thing filling my Twitter feed; when I wouldn’t have to hear TikTok influencers weighing in on such a convoluted and messy subject; when I wouldn’t see a complex and private dispute reduced to a petty competition.
But, here we are: “Don’t Worry Darling,” Olivia Wilde’s sophomore directorial venture about a 1950s housewife, played by Florence Pugh, and her husband, played by Harry Styles, was released in theaters Sept. 23. I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Pugh and Styles play Alice and Jack, a pair of young lovebirds living in an idealistic, cult-like company town in the desert. The only residents are other couples like them — men who work for the mysterious Victory Project and their dutiful housewives who stay at home to cook, clean and serve their husbands.
When Alice starts to experience what the town doctor calls hallucinations, she begins to suspect that the Victory Project is not what it seems, and that something more sinister is afoot.
The first act of the film is incredibly promising. Thanks to Wilde’s direction and Pugh’s incredible performance, we’re instantly drawn into this beautifully designed world. The score is unexpectedly unique, which was a delightful surprise. The production design, costume design and cinematography are visual eye candy. Even Harry Styles — bless his heart — was convincing in his first few scenes.
However, as the film progresses, it begins to decline in quality.
“Don’t Worry Darling” has a pacing problem that reveals itself in the second act. This hour-long chunk of time could have been used to develop the supporting characters, reveal more about the criminally underdeveloped antagonist played by Chris Pine, or dive deeper into some of the mysteries of their idyllic town. Instead, the second act is spent repeating the same pattern: Alice witnesses something weird, she has a hallucination, she’s told that she’s crazy, repeat. But, I was still holding out hope that the payoff in the third act would be worth it.
It was not.
The final half-hour of “Don’t Worry Darling” is so rushed, undercooked and anti-climactic that I was baffled when it cut to black. I thought there had to be more, but alas, there was not.
The themes are never developed past the idea that men controlling women is, in fact, bad. A two hour-long film was not needed to explore such surface-level ideas about feminism and gender roles.
While Wilde’s direction is interesting and sharp enough to keep you engaged, the screenplay, which Wilde expressed interest in when it was on the 2019 black list, is far too monotonous. The film never does enough to distinguish itself from its clear sources of inspiration: “The Truman Show,” “Get Out” and “The Stepford Wives.”
Pugh carries the film on her back. She knows how to sell boring writing with her natural charisma and fierceness. Her vulnerability and desperation are visceral and evoke empathy from the audience. It makes sense that Wilde sought Pugh out after seeing her in “Midsommar,” because the two performances are very similar.
Her scenes with Styles are jarring — having both one of the best and one of the worst performances of the year in the same scene can do that. While Styles is inherently charismatic, he couldn’t do an emotional scene if his life depended on it. His alien-like, uncomfortable presence is like a car crash that you can’t look away from.
Nevertheless, “Don’t Worry Darling” is an enjoyable film that ultimately couldn’t fulfill its own promises.