Don’t Worry Darling is the second film directed by Olivia Wilde, following her hugely successful debut Booksmart. After causing quite a stir in the media for all the wrong reasons, the actual film itself seems to have passed under the radar which is sadly unsurprising as the end result is a decent attempt that squanders a promising cast and story.
The film follows Alice (Florence Pugh) and her husband Jack (Harry Styles) as they throw a party in their idyllic 1950’s style home. They live in the company town of Victory in the desert of California, where every day follows the same routine. The men go to work in the morning in the Victory headquarters in the desert, while the wives stay at home, do the housework and then spend the rest of their days drinking and shopping. The wives can do any leisure activity they want so long as they don’t venture into the desert or ask questions about their husband’s work.
Alice spends her days with neighbours Bunny (Olivia Wilde) and Peg (Kate Berlant), gossiping about fellow neighbour Margaret (KiKi Layne) who used to be a friend until becoming recently ill. Alice then dutifully cooks dinner for her husband Jack and greets him at the door with a drink as he returns home from work.
Victory was founded by Frank (Chris Pine), who is revered by all of his employees and whose wife, Shelley (Gemma Chan), teaches ballet to the other wives. Alice, Jack, Bunny and her husband Dean (Nick Kroll) attend a party hosted by Frank and they witness Margaret have a breakdown, which starts to sow seeds of doubt in Alice. The next day, she witnesses a plane crash while on her way to town and on investigating, winds up in the desert at the prohibited headquarters. Here she has a surreal experience that causes her perfect life to slowly unravel over the coming days.
Don’t Worry Darling starts off very well as Alice goes about her daily routine. The synchronicity of the spouses’ days, the Stepford Wives-esque routine that the wives follow as they wave their husbands goodbye and every activity they undertake afterwards has a very eerie feeling to them. Combined with a script that has a lot of subtle comments and lines hinting at stranger goings on, the first half hour of the film made for a very engaging watch. It’s helped by a killer soundtrack and some amazing cinematography; everything from the scenery to the set design the entire film looks fantastic and very in keeping with the 1950s style theme. Florence Pugh’s costumes especially looked stunning.
However, after this initial weirdness the action slumps. Alice’s reactions to her surreal experience and the ensuing hallucinations become tedious and the film seems to take a very long time to get to the point and reveal the big twist. The hallucinations themselves also become dull and repetitive after the first few appearances and lose their power. Admittedly this middle act is buoyed by an incredible performance by Florence Pugh who supports this entire film almost single-handedly and some able support from a rather unusually creepy Chris Pine. Harry Styles does well too, but it’s a shame that his intentionally dodgy English accent ruins his performance slightly, even though it is explained away later.
And then there’s the twist ending. I will readily admit that I hadn’t seen this one coming and actually enjoyed the twist itself, I just think it wasn’t fully realised. After taking over an hour and a half to get to the twist, it feels rushed and unsatisfying. It ends far too abruptly and it doesn’t give Alice the resolution she deserves, trying too hard to be overly dramatic instead.
Don’t Worry Darling had a promising plot and a twist that is underutilised, but it wasn’t without its merits. Pugh puts in yet another stellar performance and makes this film instantly watchable for her alone, it’s just unfortunate the story can’t match her star turn.
A contract manager moonlighting as a rather discerning film and book critic, with an almost fangirl appreciation for anything made by Christopher Nolan. When I’m not catching up on my latest read or watch, you can usually find me trying out my amateur baking skills – Bake Off here I come!