There are a few films in the world that garner more attention with the off-screen drama they cause than the actual film itself. Don’t Worry Darling has fallen into that trap. Was Shia LeBeouf telling the truth when he claimed he quit the film or is Olivia Wilde, director, and actor, the one you back up here? Her ‘leaked video’ where she talks about Florence Pugh and refers to her as ‘Miss Flo’ isn’t exactly the best support to her side of the story. Olivia Wilde and Harry Styles’ reported relationship is also a big part of the internet fodder and Florence Pugh’s statements about the film only being promoted in a certain way are also just a small portion of a big PR disaster.
Then there is the infamous ‘did Harry Styles REALLY spit on Chris Pine’ viral video and Styles’ viral moment about what the movie is… There seems to be an endless plethora of gossip and viral moments about the cast and crew of the film, and that’s quite the disappointment. Because the film deserved better.
Set in a seemingly utopian land where men and women are confined to the classic boomer era gender roles (subservient domestic roles for women in high heels and flouncy skirts), the film is helmed by the central female character Alice (Florence Pugh) who begins to see odd instances in the allegedly perfect life that seem to be immediately shut down by everyone around her. Her mysterious neighbor Margaret, the unknown nature of what the husbands do, and eggs with nothing in them make Alice wonder what’s going in this little town called Victory.
Wilde’s work reminds me of Jordan Peele’s, even though Peele’s work is in a league of its own; the comparison itself is a compliment to Wilde’s execution of Don’t Worry Darling. There is tension, physical and emotional. It builds up and asks questions. Pugh’s performance is phenomenal. She embodies Alice’s conflicts perfectly without allowing the character to lose hope in what is a claustrophobic nightmare. That keeps the film’s spark alive: Alice’s fighting spirit never backs down, never gives up. That adds to the tension when everything around Alice falls apart like a house of cards.
The film makes a lot of pertinent points about misogyny (how women are gaslighted and told they’re ‘crazy’ when they’re recounting genuine experiences) and conformity (a group will prefer to stick together and find safety in obedience rather than asking questions) and how the very idea of perfection is flawed (as most dystopia vs utopia narratives do). But it leaves many questions unanswered as it frequently peppers, in its earlier acts, hints at a world breaking down. Those hints are never addressed and never fully explained, even analogously. The last few minutes of the film answer many questions, but the earlier buildups and motifs remain open-ended.
Chris Pine and Florence Pugh shine in the film even though Harry Styles has enough to bear on his superstar shoulders. Bear in mind that I watched this film with a massive crowd of Harry Styles fan girls who couldn’t stop giggling, screaming and applauding every time Harry Styles pretty much breathed onscreen. I do swear that I did my best to drown out said distraction by focusing on the super serious themes of the film. I was able to forget their giggles when I harked back to the memories of reading about a grisly murder that occurred earlier the same day in Pakistan (a man violently hit his wife and killed her in a fit of rage) and subsequently much of the discussion on social media was about how women are encouraged to ‘make it work’ or ‘hide their discomfort’ about glaring red flags around them — just because society asks them to conform to misshapen rules or mistaken ideas of love and commitment. It’s a stretch but if you read enough about how intimate partner violence or incel culture has become a pervasive factor in domestic crimes, you begin to see patterns easily.
Pugh carried the film with her impeccable performance and committed delivery of the character. Her streaks of independence and modernity in what is a facade of a perfectly nostalgic life add a lot of depth to Alice. Pugh’s expressive green eyes are highlighted beautifully by Wilde in emotional moments. The heavy-lidded makeup, and the hair which is a mix of disheveled yet styled is reminiscent of the collision of two worlds, both broken and super messed up. Pugh’s work is not merely static, and there is a lot of physical investment involved in her character. Alice is running, cleaning, walking, fighting, pushing, rising, and falling all in the breadth of one single feature-length film.
It is Pine, next, who stood out most for me in the film. He’s a mini fascist dictator who is charming, convincing, and breathtakingly beautiful. His perfection and charisma are all weapons he uses to manipulate – straight out of the cult leader playbook. In many ways, he encompasses the truth of the scene we see: a beautiful but menacing image of what society is ‘imagined’ to be, what a perfect ‘man’ is imagined to be. A scene between him and Pugh, standing alone in the kitchen, is a near-perfect example of how to execute a simple but epic interpersonal battle between two characters.
The film has many of the older tropes and borrows from the known templates of Stepford Wives, Truman Show, and Groundhog Day but has an unmistakable flavor of its own making that will stay with you. John Powell’s score is magical and adds haunting silences to the layers of the film. The performances, especially by Pugh and Pine with an honorable mention to Wilde herself who plays Bunny, another ‘perfect’ wife in the ‘perfect’ world, make for a very fine viewing experience. The PR disaster after disaster is an unfortunate aspect for the film because it really is so much more than the social media fodder it ended up becoming. Don’t Worry Darling is a decent enough film with great performances — it is now out in the cinema and I truly hope that people get to see it and completely ignore the silly noise surrounding its making.