Growing up a Child of the ’80s, my life was forever changed when Dad brought home our very first VCR. Sure, there were more than a few embarrassing moments caught on camera that I haven’t been able to live down to this day at family gatherings, but out of that came Blockbuster Nights (or something similar whenever we visited our cheaper, local videotape rental stores). While I would inevitably get dragged to the sci-fi and fantasy genres as if by tractor beam, I learned to love the Golden Era of Hollywood. Very quickly I became a Hitchcock, Welles and Curtiz fanboy — elements of which live on to this day.
Anytime a feature film attempts to resuscitate that retro vibe, it immediately catches my eye. Don’t Worry Darling is one such movie.
Opening the film, young housewife Alice (played by Florence Pugh) loyally prepares breakfast for husband, Jack (Harry Styles). As she sends him out the door working for The Victory Project, she bides her time with chores and gossiping with the other housewives in their Utopian desert oasis. But that all changes one day when she decides to take a joyride in the company trolley.
Seeing an airplane crash, she wanders off into the desert in search of help. What transpires next in the plot is what leads this storyline down its psychological-thriller roots. Loosely describing the overall arcs, the story is trippy, maybe a little too subtle at times. There’s plenty of authoritarian rules that must simply be obeyed (or face the consequences) and gender roles are quite antiquated. Nothing is what it seems, where something sinister lies underneath it all.
All of this, plus the big-named talent involved (including Chris Pine, Gemma Chan, Nick Kroll and Dita Von Teese!) excited me to see Olivia Wilde’s second venture into directing feature films. I was somewhat perplexed when the release received average reviews and quickly exited movie theaters. While the movie doubled its budget at the box office (eventually reaching $86.7 million), it wasn’t really considered a success. And after catching the film on HBO last week, I’ve got an idea why.
“They’re lying to all of us.”
Just like any good sci-fi movie, the lead character will eventually question his/her reality upon major revelations, wondering why anybody else hasn’t already reached that conclusion. Could they be losing their mind? Are the accusations of outbursts and paranoia real? This build-up was pretty good and Pugh’s performance is the best thing here. Where it all falls apart is Act Three. Specifically, the role of Jack Chambers is pedestrian, at best. The supposedly loving husband doesn’t act that way for long stretches. It doesn’t help that Harry Styles brings absolutely nothing to the role, except for looking good in his Mad Men-inspired wardrobe.
Then there’s the anticlimactic Big Reveal. I was expecting something more, whether bigger and better or just something a little more palpable and redeeming. This entry may have been plucked from the 2019 Black List, but it sadly should have stayed there (at least until it was revised).
The sets look incredibly expensive for this period piece, and after watching the trailer (below), you might even believe this was nothing but black trauma porn with its racist undertones. Whether an homage or a duplication, if you could imagine mind-melding The Stepford Wives with Them, you’d get an idea of what to expect in Don’t Worry Darling.
Beauty in control and grace in symmetry is celebrated in this release, while it may only be remembered for its off-screen controversies, such as firing original leading man Shia LaBeouf, Wilde’s clashes with Pugh and Styles’ fans in an uproar over the singer’s off-screen relationship with the director. A behind-the-scenes documentary would most likely do better than this film!
To say this was a troubled production is to put it mildly for the progressive material involved. For me, I’ll retreat to TCM for my Hollywood classics.
If you like horror films, you should give this one a try… there’s many scary aspects to it.