Abbie Bobeck ‘26
Don’t Worry Darling, Olivia Wilde’s sophomore film, has been at the forefront of pop culture news since its filming began in October 2020. Now, almost two years later, the film has garnered even more gossip and theories than anyone can count. Simultaneously, the film debuted at #1 in the US and attributed $30 million worldwide in its opening weekend.
After carefully following news articles and updates on the film, from the first teaser to the first trailer, I went into the premiere with high expectations. Wilde’s directorial debut, Booksmart (2019), was of critical acclaim and one of my favorite movies, so I had no doubts about her ability to deliver an entertaining movie.
Don’t Worry Darling follows the happy couple Alice Chambers (Florence Pugh) and Jack Chambers (Harry Styles) as they spend their days in a picturesque 1950s community called Victory. Each day, the neighborhood wives wave goodbye to their suit-clad husbands in shiny expensive cars as they drive off to work on the mysterious Victory Project. The foundation of Victory itself and the infamous project is spearheaded by its charismatic leader, Frank (Chris Pine), and his striking, supportive wife Shelley (Gemma Chan). When the mental state of a member of the Victory community, Margaret (KiKi Lane), takes a turn for the worse, Alice begins to notice cracks in her so-called perfect life. The story focuses on the blank spots in Alice’s memory as we follow her through everyday life, beginning to question if everything is truly as it seems.
In the first third of the film, the audience is introduced to Margaret and realizes that Frank and the other neighbors are gaslighting Alice into ignoring her concerns. To me, this characterization catapults the plot into motion. Still, the audience lacks clarity in the story without an in-depth focus on Margeret’s past in Victory and her relationship to Frank and her husband.
A lot of Wilde’s press appearances for Don’t Worry Darling featured an emphasis on her claim that it would show female pleasure in a nuanced way that audiences are unaccustomed to seeing on the big screen. Compared to movies of the same genre, or any movie with a heterosexual couple, the intimate scenes in Don’t Worry Darling do focus on the satisfaction of Alice rather than Jack. Nonetheless, the overarching themes of the movie overtake this message. In retrospect, the placement of the film’s sex scenes felt hasty and unimpactful. Although I understand the effect these moments were supposed to have on the viewers, to understand the unique love between Alice and Jack, the moments felt uncomfortable and forced.
As the story continues, we see Florence Pugh’s experience in the thriller genre take hold as she ranges from a happy wife to an exacerbated friend. Going into the film, many critics had doubts about Harry Styles’s acting skills because he had only ever acted in Dunkirk (2017), a Christopher Nolan film that inspired Wilde to shortlist Styles for Don’t Worry Darling. However, Styles as Jack was exactly what the role needed. Many often compare Styles to the likes of James Dean, and he shines in the role of a doting husband who wears nice suits and drives a fancy Corvette. His innate handsomeness and charm make the audience fall for him and his marriage to Alice, perhaps exactly as Olivia Wilde wanted. While it felt hard to separate the Harry Styles we know as a singer from the actor on the screen, he was able to fill the role of Jack well and hold his own in important moments in the film. On the other hand, he almost seemed funny acting next to Pugh, who dominates this genre. The chemistry between Pugh and Styles was palpable, but as their relationship slowly gets brought into question, their dialogue becomes more choppy and their performances stop existing on an even playing field. Although Styles shined in his emotional and expressive portrayal of Jack, he was nowhere close to the revelation that Pugh was as Alice.
Despite critics’ despise for Styles casting in Don’t Worry Darling, I found major issues with other casting choices. Two characters, Violet (Sydney Chandler) and Bill (Douglas Smith), really stood out in terms of distraction to the plot. Their plotline as a couple felt unnecessary, and their lines were even more awkward and forced. Furthermore, Nick Kroll’s role as Dean, a higher-up at the Victory Project and one of Frank’s staunch supporters, felt plopped into the cast. Kroll stood out due to his reputation as a comedian and not a dramatic actor, and the audience’s inability to view him in the context of a 1950 husband. Additionally, many moviegoers struggled with Olivia Wilde choosing to cast herself in the supporting role of Bunny, Alice’s close friend in Victory. However, I thought Wilde succeeded as the movie’s primary comedic relief, along with another wife Peg (Kate Berlant), who both kept the plot moving. In an interview with Interview Magazine, Wilde explained she was struggling to cast Bunny’s role because expenses had depleted their budget, and ultimately she chose to play the role rather than finding an actress who would work for a cheap salary.
While many aspects of the script and casting choices fall short of the original script’s full potential, there are elements of the film that surpass all expectations. For one, the cinematography is breathtaking and boosts the movie’s status to a whole new level. The stellar costuming and set design were other aspects of the movie that captivated all audiences. The carefully curated clothing in the film added important details to the time period and convinces us that Victory is as perfect as its outfits. Costume designer Arianne Phillips even won the Campari Passion for Film Award at this year’s Venice Film Festival.
One of my main issues with all the baseless rumors surrounding the project, specifically those targeting Wilde, is that they seem rooted in sexism. Even if all the rumors about Wilde were true, which they don’t seem to be, it wouldn’t be half as bad as the proven allegations against many famous male directors. For example, David O. Russell has admitted to sexual misconduct, and a handful of famous actors, including George Clooney, called him out for creating a toxic environment on set. However, this has not derailed his career whatsoever, and his new film Amsterdam is set to make bank at the box office. Hateful rumors about Wilde have spread to the masses and possibly compromised her career as a female director. It will be interesting to see if they will derail her future in the industry.
All in all, Don’t Worry Darling had all the shiny aspects of a big-budget Hollywood film, but something was missing. Pugh’s performance stood out, but supporting performances from KiKi Lane, Chris Pine, Harry Styles, Gemma Chan, and Kate Berlant all held their own and added important pieces to the telling of Wilde’s story. Despite many viewers’ dismay, the ending was a neatly wrapped bow. It left many aspects up to the viewer’s discretion and left people thinking. I think the ending was perfect for this film and genre because the film dares us to question our lives, our reality, and the social norms ingrained in our society. As the film inquires, what are you willing to risk for the perfect life?
Image Source: IMDb