After Booksmart, I was ready to follow Olivia Wilde anywhere behind the camera. Well, Don’t Worry Darling sure shows why it’s bad to make blanket statements. Whereas that film was a razor sharp vision, executed flawlessly, this one is a muddled mess. The movie certainly doesn’t lack for ambition, but the execution leaves a ton to be desired. It feels not only like the goals weren’t achieved, but that actual plot points and scenes of importance were left on the cutting room floor. I don’t care a lick about the behind the scenes gossip for Wilde and company, just what the final product was like. Alas, Don’t Worry Darling fails on that front. I had such high hopes, too. Alas.
Don’t Worry Darling frustrates because of all the potential it contains. The premise has plenty of possibilities, Wilde’s previous flick was an unquestioned success, and the talent involved was A-list. Everything was set up for success. Unfortunately, something very clearly went wrong, leading to an experience that leaves much to be desired.
Alice Chambers (Florence Pugh) is a 1950s housewife living an idealized life with her husband Jack Chambers (Harry Styles). They reside in the private community town of Victory, an experimental community for the employees of the Victory Project. A job spearheaded by CEO Frank (Chris Pine), the men leave every morning for a mysterious location, while the women stay home and drink. Most don’t question their ideal lives. Alice, however, starts to see the cracks in Victory when a plane crashes in the desert, ignored by all but her. From then on, she’s determined to figure out just what the men are up to, and what secrets the town might be hiding.
As Alice begins to investigate, her friends, including Bunny (Wilde), worry for her. Alice seeing friend Margaret (KiKi Layne) crumbling as well only emboldens her further. Eventually, even though Jack is being promoted, Alice’s growing paranoia puts her on the radar of Frank and his wife Shelley (Gemma Chan). Is she losing her mind? Or, is there more to Victory than meets the eye?
Florence Pugh is hardly the issue here, as she delivers a very strong performance. Neither is Chris Pine, who relishes his more villainous role than usual. They’re the highlights, even if the film avoids having them face off, for the most part. Pugh is our perspective, with a juicy role, while Pine pops in and out. As for Harry Styles, the role isn’t particularly demanding, but he does a solid enough job. Pugh and Styles have a solid romantic chemistry, making their various sex scenes on the hotter side. In smaller parts, Gemma Chan, KiKi Layne, and Olivia Wilde herself are fine, if under-utilized. Supporting players include Kate Berlant, Sydney Chandler, Nick Kroll, Timothy Simons, and more. The same goes for them. It’s solid acting, just not properly supported by the script.
Director Olivia Wilde is let down by the screenplay in Don’t Worry Darling, starting about a third of the way in. The script, written by Katie Silberman (coming on board once Wilde signed on), Carey Van Dyke, and Shane Van Dyke, is a mess. While Wilde’s visual sense is on the money (credit to cinematographer Matthew Libatique as well), the writing she’s working with leaves a lot to be desired. Not only is the twist awful, several second and especially third act moments come out of nowhere. Too many elements feel out of place, making for a mess once the initial set up is done.
Don’t Worry Darling is a massive disappointment, made all the worse by how good it could have been. This should have been a great genre film. Instead, it’s one of 2022’s bigger letdowns. Not every movie works, but it’s a shame when something with such potential falls flat. It has some merit as a curiosity now, but as quality cinema? That it is not.