September 22, 2022

Retro Aesthetic Reigns Supreme in Fascinating Thriller “Don’t Worry Darling” (Review)

After a month of controversy surrounding a variety of (admittedly interesting) factors, both internal and external, Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling, the follow-up to her 2019 comedy hit Booksmart, is finally here…but the buzz really has nothing to do with the movie. Did Olivia Wilde and Florence Pugh not get along on set? Did Harry Styles spit on Chris Pine at the Venice Film Festival? The real answer is: who cares?

A film should never be defined by what happened behind the scenes, but it seems that fate is the destiny of Don’t Worry Darling. Who knows if the bad press is due entirely to these rumors, but I will admit I was very excited for this film based on the trailers and marketing alone. A mysterious thriller reminiscent of Pleasantville and the more recent WandaVision, starring a host of wonderful performers and the world’s hottest pop star? Sign me up!

For a while, Don’t Worry Darling doesn’t abuse its potential. It drops us into a fantastical 1950s-style community called Victory, where the housewives are expected to maintain order and discretion while their husbands are away working on a top-secret project during the work day. Alice (Little Women’s Florence Pugh) is one such wife, but a series of disturbing incidents causes her to question her own reality.

Alice’s husband Jack is played by music megastar Harry Styles, whose acting performances are few and far between (spanning from 2017’s Dunkirk, 2021’s Eternals and the upcoming My Policeman), but his level of superstardom has never been higher. I suspect much of Don’t Worry Darling’s theatergoing crowd will be Harry Styles fans expecting to see their favorite singer/songwriter as they never have before. I will say that the last bit is true, but not in the way you might think.

In Don’t Worry Darling, Styles and his all-too-handsome face are a mirror of what he is presented with. He still has a lot to learn about acting, but he’s surrounded by capable performers like Pugh, Chris Pine, Gemma Chan, Nick Kroll and Olivia Wilde herself, all of whom imbue the world of Victory with an off-putting aesthetic that slowly paints a chilling picture of what’s really going on. Granted, the build-up can be uneven and inconsistent, but it’s meant to be unsettling. In that way, it works perfectly.

Setting Styles and his massive fanbase aside, Florence Pugh is the biggest reason to watch this movie. There’s a reason her continuous puzzled and terrified reactions are so prevalent in the marketing — she plays her part to perfection, and makes for a compelling protagonist who is discovering new information at the same time as the audience. That new information may not always add up or be fully paid off, but that is in no way Pugh’s fault; her character, Alice, is perfectly symbolic of the values that are forced on the “wives” in Victory (to say any more would be considered spoilery), and familiarity with Pugh’s acting work beforehand was advantageous in anticipating the power dynamic between her character and the others. This is a very different role for her, but one that she masters nonetheless.

Don’t Worry Darling is an intriguing bit of quasi-experimental cinema that goes beyond a traditional premise that endeavors to show us something we’ve never seen before. Whether it’s successful in that regard is not for me to definitively say, but if it sounds at all interesting to you, dear reader, I advise you to give it a try.

Don’t Worry Darling hits theaters tomorrow, September 23.

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