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Don't Worry Darling Movie Review

Don't Worry Darling (2022) movie poster
Don't Worry Darling

Theatrical Release: September 23, 2022 / Running Time: 120Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Olivia Wilde / Writers: Katie Silberman (story & screenplay); Shane Van Dyke, Carey Van Dyke (story)

Cast: Florence Pugh (Alice Chambers), Harry Styles (Jack Chambers), Olivia Wilde (Bunny), Gemma Chan (Shelley), KiKi Layne (Margaret), Nick Kroll (Dean), Sydney Chandler (Violet), Kate Berlant (Peg), Asif Ali (Peter), Douglas Smith (Bill), Timothy Simons (Dr. Collins), Ari'el Stachel (Ted), Chris Pine (Frank)


Judged by tabloid gossip and behind-the-scenes drama, Don't Worry Darling is by far the biggest movie opening this season. Olivia Wilde's second film as director initially drew its buzz on that basis. Then, Wilde left her longtime partner and co-parent Jason Sudeikis and began dating her new leading man, One Direction alumnus -turned-actor Harry Styles. Those circumstances would attract Gigli-type schaudenfreude, but the story got even juicier when reports began emerging that Wilde was beefing with her leading lady, Florence Pugh, another entertainment figure of great interest to the Internet. Neither ever confirmed that story, but Pugh's comments on Don't Worry Darling and her decision to minimize her publicity for it (mostly citing her work on the upcoming Dune: Part Two) removed most doubt.

The cherry on top came a few weeks ago when Wilde confirmed that she fired Shia LaBeouf from the role ultimately played by Styles because LaBeouf's creative process didn't jive with hers. LaBeouf disputed that, claiming he left on his own accord over lack of rehearsal time, and came bearing receipts, namely an embarrassing video plea from Wilde begging him to reconsider.

At this point, amidst awkward red carpet premieres and press interviews, all the memes and hot takes, and oh yeah, the time Wilde got served custody papers while on stage presenting the film at CinemaCon, there is no way for Don't Worry the movie to live up to Don't Worry the PR nightmare. And, alas, it doesn't.

Wilde's directorial debut, 2019's warmly-received and progressive high school graduation comedy Booksmart, seemed to mark the start of an important filmmaking career and a second act for Wilde, who has been acting in movies for nearly twenty years and just hasn't been able to pick a hit (exhibits 1, 2, 3, 4, 5). On paper, Don't Worry sounded like a promising follow-up, a look at married life in the 1950s reminiscent of resonant work like Revolutionary Road and "Mad Men."

Florence Pugh and Harry Styles play a young married couple with a seemingly idyllic existence in a 1950s utopian community in "Don't Worry Darling."

Pugh and Styles play Alice and Jack Chambers, an attractive young couple residing in The Victory Project, a utopian experimental community out in the desert. The men all leave for work in the morning at the very same time, driving their colorful cars into the desert for... well, we don't know. It's one of the place's only rules that the men can't talk about their top-secret jobs. Their wives are generally okay with that, having the day to themselves to take the trolly into town, shop by charging everything to a company account, and getting back to make sure dinner is ready and delicious when Hubby strolls in.

It's the 1950s American Dream and no one here is questioning it or longing to break free from the status quo. Almost no one. One woman, Margaret (If Beale Street Could Talk's KiKi Layne), asks, "Why are we here?" The man in charge of the Victory Project, the charismatic Frank (Chris Pine) spins it as a platitude into one of his countless ambiguous speeches. They're preparing for the future and making the world better. Imagine Epcot the way Walt drew it up, only run by a televangelist, and you aren't far off from this place.

Only Alice -- and the viewer -- is looking for the dark truth about this community. She sees a plane crash in the mountains and goes to investigate, finding Frank's alluring glass headquarters but no enlightenment. Then she begins to feel a strange kinship with Margaret, which would be less concerning if she didn't witness a suicidal Margaret being hauled off by men in red jumpsuits.

So far, so good, right? Wilde's sophomore film sounds compelling and for a while it is, with Pugh commanding the screen, a very believable face of Depression forming in the cracks of an idyllic paradise. For so long, society accepted the gender roles of the standard nuclear family. Men wore ties and carried briefcases to some job. Women spent their time cooking, cleaning, and raising the kids. Our postmodern view of these times are inevitably shaped by the fact that We've moved away from these traditions and now we ask the questions that no one dared to ask seventy years ago. In that regard, Don't Worry does more than just look and sound pretty, which it does thanks to sunny cinematography from Matthew Libatique and too many lens flares to count, solid production design and costumes, and a soundtrack of the period tunes that hold up. The score, by the usually dependable John Powell, is a different story. It relies heavily and distratingly on human voices, spoiling more than a couple of dramatic moments in the process.

As the Victory Project's charismatic but ambiguous leader, Chris Pine (pictured with director/actor Olivia Wilde) gives "Don't Worry Darling" a slight bad YA movie feel.

All that Don't Worry has going for it comes to a screeching halt in its final act, with a twist that undermines the entirety of the film. Have we learned nothing from movies like Serenity (2019) and The Village that swing for the fences at their ends and don't even make contact with the ball? You'll be too disappointed by the ending to appreciate anything else.

Perhaps we should have expected nothing more from the script's original writing duo of Shane and Carey Van Dyke, whose past C-movie efforts (Titanic II, Street Racer, Chernobyl Diaries) are the stuff of bargain bin purchase remorse and cheesy amateur YouTube reviews. Booksmart's Katie Silberman rewrote the Van Dyke brothers' screenplay and that must have helped, but it is impossible to recover from a final act this bad.

People will criticize Styles for trying to act and getting the chance to do that because of his looks, music career, and now romantic relationship with a budding filmmaker. It's also too easy to imagine LaBeouf, for all his own present-day baggage, not being far more interesting in the role of Jack. Styles is clearly and unsurprisingly outclassed by Pugh, but the screenplay does stack the deck in her favor.

Will all of the free (mostly negative) publicity the tabloids have given Don't Worry Darling do anything to help it reach the masses at a time when every movie at the box office keeps coming up short? I sort of doubt it. Sure, Harry and Florence's hardly overlapping fanbases might show them some love, but in the end this is a mid-budgeted R-rated movie for adults. Once upon a time, in the 1970s, that was the biggest draw in Hollywood. Now the industry can't seem to make any of them succeed commercially, even when they're a lot better than this.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: The Silent Twins See How They Run The Good House Three Thousand Years of Longing
Directed by Olivia Wilde: Booksmart | Written by Katie Silberman: Isn't It Romantic
Florence Pugh: Midsommar | Harry Styles: Dunkirk
Revolutionary Road The Tree of Life mother!

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Reviewed September 22, 2022.

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