Don’t Worry Darling — A Boring Sci-Fi Attempt

Image retrieved from TMDb

It’s not often that the behind-the-scenes moments and media appearances from a film are more entertaining than the film itself, especially when it has the star power behind it that Don’t Worry Darling does. But unfortunately that’s the case here. There have been and will continue to be lots of hyperbolic takes about how this is terrible, but in actuality, it’s just bland and one-note. 

Set in an experimental society in the 1950s, Don’t Worry Darling follows Alice (Florence Pugh), a housewife to Jack (Harry Styles). It’s not clear what Jack — or any of the men in the town of Victory, for that matter — does. All we know is that he goes to work every day and comes home to a spotlessly clean home, a nice, fresh meal, and some sex with his beautiful wife. And Alice spends her days cleaning the house, cooking, sunbathing, and gossiping with the other wives who live on her cul-de-sac. It’s a peaceful and carefree existence… until weird things start happening.

One of the other wives, Margaret (KiKi Layne), claims that there’s more to this community than meets the eye, and its leader, Frank (Chris Pine), is hiding something. Now if you’re wondering what exactly he’s hiding, you can keep wondering, because it’s never quite revealed. The film’s plot lies under a thin veneer of mystery and intrigue, but it’s not very effective, as you can mostly figure out what’s going on pretty early on.

Alice starts to question what’s going on since the men are so secretive and everything else is just too perfect. Once she does, we’re treated to a clown car’s worth of scenes of her being gaslit to believe that everything’s fine and that she needs to just stop asking questions. Of course, she doesn’t just stop, or else we wouldn’t have a movie. But after a promising start, Alice’s anxieties start to get repetitive and, frankly, boring. 

The main problem is that the film is a one-track mind, and can’t seem to be bothered to do anything else. It’s an obvious allegory for a patriarchal system that’s bought into and perpetuated by incels radicalize by an Andrew Tate-esque podcast. It’s a clear allegory, and it’s presenting an important message that I agree with, but… it’s just not doing anything with that message. There aren’t any layers, there’s no commentary, and a third act plot development is laughable, which is the furthest thing from the director’s intent. It seems to be trying to set itself apart in this crowded genre, but it just ends up feeling too familiar.

What makes it even more confounding is that apart from being narratively simple, it’s technically uninspiring. Cinematographer Matthew Libatique has shot some good-looking movies, including some from Darren Aronofsky and Spike Lee, but Don’t Worry Darling is an uninspiring effort. It’s not bland or poorly shot; it’s just fine. You might expect a bit more for a high concept sci-fi story such as this.

Where you’re not let down, though, is by a couple of the main cast members. Pugh has of course been great in a smattering of movies since 2016’s Lady Macbeth (she officially burst onto the scene in 2019 with Midsommar and Little Women), and she’s far and away the best part of this movie. Not just the best performance. The best part. A lesser actress might have made some of the more boring gaslight scenes downright unwatchable, but she exudes a me-against-everyone energy that demands empathy not dissimilar to her role in Midsommar. It also helps that her character is the only one who isn’t one-dimensional (though her co-star is One Directional). 

Pine’s character is one-dimensional, but he still manages to deliver a reservedly frightening performance as a de facto cult leader. It doesn’t carry the same charisma (the role doesn’t ask for it), but his performance is reminiscent of fellow Hollywood Chris, Chris Hemsworth’s performance in Bad Times at the El Royale. The roles gave each of them a chance to show off their darker, edgier sides, and Pine at least seems like an actor who is trying to bring something to his role. 

Styles, on the other hand, doesn’t seem like an actor at all. Maybe Christopher Nolan was on to something when he didn’t have Styles speak for most of Dunkirk. For someone who has so much personality as a celebrity and musical performer, it’s actually kind of baffling that Styles couldn’t carry any of that over to this performance. He really tries, and I’ll give him that, but when he’s performing next to Pine, and especially Pugh, who make acting look so effortless, trying really doesn’t cut it. 

Director Olivia Wilde was most likely right when she said if she was a man, the behind-the-scenes goings-on of Don’t Worry Darling wouldn’t have gotten nearly as much attention. And as more details have come out, it seems like a lot of the situation has become way overblown, and the public perception has been tampered with by people with many different agendas. Wilde deserves to have her film looked at without bias, which is how I went into it — I consumed all the Twitter drama (there’s no way he actually spit… right?), but I put it out of my mind when the lights dimmed in my theater. I was really enjoying it for the first 25 minutes or so. It’s just that she struggles maintaining momentum in this one. Going from what’s basically a universally beloved small teen comedy in Booksmart to a high concept blockbuster starring mega celebrities in the vein of Christopher Nolan or Jordan Peele is a massive jump, and Wilde just isn’t there yet. 

I gave Don’t Worry Darling a fair shake, and unfortunately it just doesn’t work, leaving the Twitter drama to be more entertaining after all. The film is no colossal failure, but there are so many disparate pieces in a film with a simple message, which thinks it’s communicating a complex one. I was let down technically, intellectually, and emotionally.


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