Review by Eve Smith
In the opening scenes of the sun-bleached Americana-world of Don’t Worry, Darling (Olivia Wilde, 2022), life seems a little too good to be true. Women in swing skirts smile and wave their husbands off to work in a technicolour coordination that looks like it could be a colourised 1950s infomercial. And when Jack (Harry Styles) comes home to Alice (Florence Pugh) that evening, they throw aside the meal she’s spent all day preparing, and Jack eats her out on the table. This is when alarm bells start to ring. No married couple is having that much good sex.
Alice and Jack are part of a group of young couples living in a nondescript new-build desert town that was pioneered by Frank (Chris Pine) and Dean (Timothy Simons). The wives spend their days cleaning, lounging by the pool or preparing for their husbands return from the Victory Project. This is the men’s mystery job, which Alice spends the movie trying to uncover.
The reason it ‘feels like a movie’ is because Florence Pugh is carrying it almost entirely on her back. Supported by Margaret (Kiki Layne), the woman who goes ‘mad’ before her, they keep the viewer suspended in tension. Chris Pine, so scarily polished he could be an A.I fed on only the male gaze and raw steak, hits just the right notes as their chilling cult-like leader.
But the logic behind why the women can’t go beyond about the edge of town, or how they are contained in a state of such semi-sentience that they have no desires of their own, are never fully addressed. And in his character, Harry Styles’ doesn’t commit to one way of being. He feels flat and his motivations stay obscure: a light breeze could blow his character away. The sci-fi reality of the film means Styles can get away with a degree of the bad acting he’s been bashed for, but even the flashbacks to the couple’s past life, Jack is defined only by good costume design and the laughably overplayed ‘man whose masculinity is threatened because he recently lost his job’ card.
John Powell’s disjointedly upbeat swing tunes and score that careen up frets like gasps, will suck you in. But all the tension built up in the first half of the film’s two-hour running time is dropped into a twist that is so aggressively on the nose, you’ll feel like you’ve been bonked over the head with a sign that has ‘metaphor’ written all over it. The imagery of female suffocation is a little too obvious and the film lingers in the lack of nuance of late 2010s gender revenge. It feels like an all-too-easy shot at the backwards views of certain men with podcasts.
The buzz from the set of this film was trouble in paradise for the slick-world of Hollywood. The film itself has been a reminder that if it feels too good to be true (A-list cast, breakout director, a sizeable chunk of Warner Brother’s bottomless budget), then it probably is.