Don't Worry Darling
Olivia Wilde’s sophmore outing is a disappointing thriller
Olivia Wilde burst onto the directing scene with her breakout comedy Booksmart (2019), the hilarious female twist on the Superbad (2007) formula. Her follow-up feature was thus highly anticipated to an unfair degree, as many promising directors suffer. Instead of being cornered in the comedy space, Wilde has decided her hand at the psychological thriller with Don’t Worry Darling (2022).
Don’t Worry Darling is the story of the happily married young couple Alice (Florence Pugh) and Jack (Harry Styles), who live a symmetrical and neat 1950s suburban life. However, within this supposed “perfect” life, Alice begins to see and discover things that pop the perfect bubble, and she suspects something more sinister afoot within their community.
Wilde slips into the paranoid directing style of a psychological thriller with relative ease, using steady, wide shots to show complacency at first, and then playing around with color, and claustrophobic close-ups as Alice becomes unsettled. Wilde’s particular work with the perfect lawns, and set symmetry do well to establish and eerie creepiness well before Alice begins to suspect anything, prodding viewers to be unsettled with this supposed utopia that America has been selling for decades. This take on 1950s perfect suburbia is no doubt a nod from Wilde to the image of an idealized United States that prompts chants of “Make America Great Again.” Don’t Worry Darling and Wilde’s purpose is, thus, to debunk this view.
Don’t Worry Darling is written by Katie Silberman and brothers Carey and Shane Van Dyke. Sadly, their script does not reach the heights of their thematic ambition. Don’t Worry Darling suffers from being a film that is more focused on delivering its underlying message than crafting a convincing first layer narrative. As such, the subtleties and symbolism of patriarchal female entrapment are brought to the fore in such blunt and over-the-top ways that viewers are turned off. To have an allegory overexplained and shoved in your face makes viewers feel treated like children and unintelligent. Much more interesting is a first layer that works as a thriller, with an underlying puzzle that those keen enough can piece together. Don’t Worry Darling, sadly, doesn’t offer viewers that choice. As such, the first act end up being the only one that works, setting up mystery and intrigue. The second act becomes a redundant repetition of the first, with Alice not advancing in her investigation, while the finale is an exposition dump clumsily edited, with a plot twist that feels like M. Night Shyamalan at his worst.
Wilde did bring together one of the more impressive casts of the season. Pugh, no matter what she does, is incredible, delivering a performance so far above the script that you feel as if she’s in a different film altogether. Styles is scanter, but rather strong when he’s placed in demanding scenes. Even Chris Pine, who plays the menacing leader of the idyllic community, is delicious in small doses, but is criminally underused.
In the end, Don’t Worry Darling devolves into a rather elongated and blunt Black Mirror (2011-) episode, commenting on the imprisoning power of the patriarchy. Wilde provides a rather tense sheen in the first act of the film; however, the narrative writing flaws weigh the film down, so that the story slows down to a sluggish pace and brings a rushed and poorly thought resolution. Come for Pugh and Styles, leave thinking Wilde deserves better material to work with.