By Reed Ripley
- Directed by: Olivia Wilde
- Starring: Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Olivia Wilde, Chris Pine
- Psychological Thriller | R | 2 hr 3 min
Early in Don’t Worry Darling, there’s a scene in which Florence Pugh’s Alice dutifully cracks open a pristine white egg, only to find nothing inside. Puzzled, she moves from egg to egg, yet each time finds herself with only a crumpling eggshell. Plenty of effort, yet nothing to show for it. Unfortunately, it’s an apt metaphor for the film.
From the jump, it’s extremely obvious how highly the film thinks of itself. Capital-F Filmmaking jumps off the screen, starting with the decision to start in media res (in the middle of the action), with Alice and her husband, Jack (Harry Styles), playing drinking games with other couples, with no setup as to who these people are, or why they’re here. Immediately with that scene, and carrying forward throughout, the technical design leaps out, with beautiful costume work, exquisite production design, and sweeping desert oasis visuals, all drenched in a pure Sinatra-era 50s-in-Palm-Springs filter. There’s also great and inventive camera work, most pointedly in mirror work that echoes Alice’s descent into the film’s central, twisted mystery.
But that’s just it: Don’t Worry Darling is filled with interesting things that occasionally feint at brilliance, but the film’s so excited to show itself off, it slips on the fundamentals. Mystery box stories have a lot of potential, but the best ones don’t forget to remind the audience why it should care about the ultimate twist. The best way to do that is to give the audience characters to understand and root for, and the film almost completely misses on that front.
Take the opening sequence: sure, dropping the audience in the middle of things creates tension and enhances the mystery box side of things, but that only works if the film then does the work to build out the characters in whose stories the film has abruptly dropped its audience. That simply doesn’t happen here.
While marketing and set drama shouldn’t normally play into critical reception of a film on its merits, it’s different when the cast themselves, including the director, lean so heavily into the bit. Pugh barely did press for the film, and her antagonistic relationship with director/actor Olivia Wilde, reportedly brought on by Wilde’s on-set and ongoing relationship with Styles, heavily colored the discourse heading into the film’s release.
With all that drama, and the emphasis the marketing put on its all-star cast, one would expect plenty of scenes in which the primary cast entertainingly bounces off one another. But, surprisingly, this is a Florence Pugh vehicle through and through, and the other characters are mostly there to enhance what she’s doing. For that to really work, though, at least one other character needed to shine, with other great character work sprinkled in, and that didn’t happen. Styles in particular is hardly given anything to do, and he doesn’t do much with what he’s given.
There’s such a lack of there there that when more effective moments finally reveal themselves, it brings about frustration. For example, there’s a scene later in the film in which Chris Pine’s cult leader, Frank, intensely confronts Alice one-on-one as she prepares appetizers for party guests just off camera, and it’s electric. Yet all that comes to mind as it plays out is ‘where was this earlier?’
Most frustratingly, the twist is super engaging, and it provides an inventive and chilling representation of forced gender norms’ inherent corrosiveness. But even during the crazy reveal in the final act, there are truly bizarre moments woven in, brought on by the utter lack of substance and characterization up to that point. Don’t Worry Darling will certainly spark conversation, but beyond a fleeting fascination with the spectacle of it all, it’s hard to see the film leaving any sort of impact.
Reed Ripley is a local attorney with a flare for watching movies. You can find more of his reviews at Ripleysreviews.com