Going into “Don’t Worry Darling,” I wondered if the hype for this film had inadvertently hurt it. This is the second directorial feature from Olivia Wilde whose first film, “Booksmart,” was one of my favorites of 2019, and people like myself became ever so excited to see what film she would tackle next. It also features quite the cast with Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Chris Pine and Nick Kroll among others, and the trailers have shown it to have a very striking look. In recent months, the behind-the-scenes stories have taken an annoying precedence over everything else such as Wilde’s relationship with Styles which started during production, or the on-set conflicts between her and Pugh which led to what was allegedly quite the screaming match. It also had the added pressure of being promoted as a serious Oscar contender and raising everyone’s that high can ultimately lead to an inescapable disappointment even if the end result is not bad.
Well, “Don’t Worry Darling” has now arrived at movie theaters everywhere, and this allowed me to watch the film outside of all its gossip and with a full audience in attendance, For the record, I think Wilde is still quite the director as she gives the proceedings a beautiful visual look thanks in part to cinematographer Matthew Libatique, the music score by John Powell is unlike others he has given us in the past and is quite effective, and there are many strong performances to be found here throughout. But when all is said and done, Wilde and her fellow filmmakers have given us a film with a story which is old, old, old. Despite everyone’s best efforts, the plot here represents a path which has been walked and trodden down far too many times.
As the film opens, we are taken back to the 1950’s where a several married couples are enjoying an evening of endless fun and drunken games in their hometown of Victory, California. Among them is Alice (Florence Pugh) and Jack Chambers (Harry Styles) who love one another to such an infinite degree as a certain scene at the dinner table will show you. As Jack gets into his car to drive to work, we see the other husbands doing the same and at the exact same time. It should go without saying how this is the first sign of things being too good to be true. While the husbands work their butts off at work, their wives stay at home either taking care of the kids or preparing the best dinner anyone could ever hope to eat, assuming it was not accidentally burnt to a crisp. Everything seems to be going in unison, and it’s only a matter of time when someone upsets the balance of things.
For Alice, it doesn’t take all that long before she realizes something is amiss. One day she cooks eggs and bacon for her husband and discovers some of the eggs are hollow. She notices a plane crashing into the mountains while others claim complete ignorance. Like all the other husbands, Jack never tells her exactly what he does for a living. And yes, there is that one neighbor who acts like Kevin McCarthy in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” or Crazy Ralph in “Friday the 13th” as she tells anyone who is listening, “We’re being lied to! Don’t you see?” Of course, not enough people bother to listen to such cryptic warnings until it is too late.
By this description, it should be plainly obvious as to where “Don’t Worry Darling” is going, and is painful for me to write that Wilde is unable to bring anything new or fresh to the material. A friend of mine has compared it to M. Nigh Shyamalan’s “The Village,” and I don’t blame him. For me, it is a combination of “The Village” and Cameron Crowe’s “Vanilla Sky” as the revelations characters make here are never the least bit surprising, and the line between what’s real and what is not is stunningly lackluster. I even kept waiting for one or more characters to throw up their arms and scream out loud, “TECH SUPPORT!” No such luck though.
Heck, “Don’t Worry Darling” even reminded me of season eight episode of “The Simpsons” entitled “You Only Move Twice” in which Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie leave Springfield and move to the all-too perfect town of Cypress Rock. Homer gets to work for a surprisingly sympathetic boss named Hank Scorpio who is later revealed to be a supervillain bent on creating a doomsday device. Of course, this is all lost on Homer who barely registers the chaos Hank is wreaking on the world. Then again, who wants to quickly admit the perfect world they live in is not all that perfect?
Things become even more obvious as we get to know the Hank Scorpio of this movie, Frank, played by the always terrific Chris Pine. Frank is the founder of this utopia everyone lives in called the Victory Project, and he demands everyone’s loyalty in the most passive-aggressive way. But while he encourages the wives not to question their husbands’ work and to keep their distance from the project’s headquarters, he’s also gleefully daring them, Alice in particular, to get to the truth about the project just to see if they possibly convince anyone else of it.
Even as the movie staggers through the bleeding obvious, there was one thing which kept me engrossed from start to finish: the performance of Florence Pugh. She is dynamite here as Alice and so emotionally raw that it was impossible to take my eyes off of her. Even if the chemistry between her and Harry Styles, who is good but not great here, is a bit lacking, she makes up for it and helps elevate this material to a level it doesn’t deserve to be at. I also loved the scene between her and Pine at the dinner table in which they essentially play a mental chess match with one another as Alice tries to make everyone see through the web of lies they are caught up in.
It really sucks to say “Don’t Worry Darling” will forever be upstaged by its behind-the-scenes stories as they now prove to be far more interesting than what unfolds here on the silver screen. Again, Wilde is not a bad director, and I know she will rebound from this. While the hype machine may have gone into overload on this cinematic endeavor, it still does not change the fact that this is a case of “been there, done that.”
* * out of * * * *