Let’s try to forget all the little fights that happened before the premiere of Don’t Worry, Darling in Venice if we can. Now that the movie has come out, we can probably just talk about the movie itself, which is neither a success nor a failure. Olivia Wilde, who directed the movie, made a sci-fi thriller that is obvious and sometimes entertaining. It borrows a lot from better things, but it uses those parts well enough. At least for a while. The movie takes place in a place that looks like Palm Springs in the 1960s: a mid-century city surrounded by dangerous desert mountains.
This is a planned community built by a mysterious company with a vaguely messianic goal to help people in some way. Every morning, the men, who are all handsome, go to work while the women, who are all pretty, take care of the kids or drink cocktails with the wives of their neighbors. (They might do both.) It’s a funny mix of Mad Men-style (with a bright polish) and the secretiveness of the Manhattan Project. There is, of course, an ominous hum to all this drunken good living, the feeling that nothing could be this safe and happy all the time.
We probably feel that way because we’ve seen movies and TV shows like The Stepford Wives, The Truman Show, and others that show a clean, but old-fashioned, way of living that ripples with dark, unseen energy. This is clear in Wilde’s movie, which doesn’t change its style much. Still, the movie looks good and has a lot of good acting. The lead role goes to Florence Pugh, a 20-year-old phenom who first came to attention with Lady Macbeth a few years ago and has since given one great performance after another.
If her cool toughness as housewife Alice seems out of place in this easygoing world, that’s probably the point. She should realize, as we should, that she doesn’t belong in this place with rules. Pugh does a good job of showing how Alice’s fear grows, and she gets along well with the other wives, who are played by people like comedian Kate Berlant and Wilde herself. And then there’s Alice’s husband, Jack, who is played by Harry Styles, an indie musician who isn’t very well known.
I’m just kidding. Styles is one of the best-known musicians in the world right now, and this was once the most talked-about thing about the movie. When Styles is on screen, it feels like a big deal, and he rises to the occasion. Yes, Styles’ expressions are a little flat, but he is otherwise a confident part of the picture. I don’t think he’s a Brando for the digital age or anything, but I’d be interested to see what he does next.
(Like, say, My Policeman, which will be shown for the first time next weekend at the Toronto International Film Festival.) Don’t Stress The parts of Darling that have been used before fit together well enough until it’s time to get serious about what’s happening to Alice. Then, the script by Katie Silberman, Carey Van Dyke, and Shane Van Dyke and the direction by Wilde start to fall apart.
They keep showing us pretty much the same scene: When Alice thinks she sees something scary, she is told in a gaslight-like way that she is making things up. Men in pressed white shirts and sharp suits who are all around her say she’s going crazy like a woman. Wilde can’t figure out how to get the story out of this eddy, so she stalls and repeats until it’s time to just say what’s going on because the movie has to end at some point.
— Don’t Worry Darling (@dontworrydarlin) September 5, 2022
When that twist comes, the movie falls apart. The goal of this article is to tell a relevant story about how anti-feminism has made women submissive in the modern world. Anti-feminism has turned from an online movement into a real-world, aggressive political ideology, fueled by pseudo-intellectual public figures and red-pilled demagogues who have made their way into mainstream discourse or, more accurately, created their own mainstream.
That’s an important topic for a movie, but Wilde doesn’t say anything new about it in Don’t Worry Darling. There are even parts of the movie’s big secret that go against each other. It’s a confusing mix of fake empowerment and Handmaid’s Tale debasement. We don’t have much time to think about these things anyway.
— Don’t Worry Darling (@dontworrydarlin) July 21, 2022
Once the movie starts to show its hand, it moves quickly to its climax and ending, which include a fake car chase and a murder. The movie has lost what little life it had. It stumbles across the finish line while asking us to think about something deep, a great awakening that will lead to a big payback for the bad guys in the movie.
We don’t get to see that part, though, because Don’t Worry Darling has used up all its tricks. Pugh, a strong and steady actor who makes the most of what she’s given, is the only thing that stays the same and doesn’t change. Chris Pine plays the shifty, sauntering overseer of the community with the menacing charm of a cult leader in a very interesting scene where Alice confronts him.
The two work well together, and when they are on screen together, the movie feels for a short time spiky and new. If only Don’t Worry, Darling was built on their chemistry instead of a bunch of blurry copies of things that have been done better elsewhere over the years.
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