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Don’t Worry Darling ★★★



Director: Olivia Wilde

Cast: Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Chris Pine, Olivia Wilde, Kiki Layne, Gemma Chan

Release: September 23rd, 2022 (UK)

If one were to look at Don’t Worry Darling strictly from the angle of gossipy online discourse, the verdict is clear: the film has become overshadowed by the black spot of its disastrous on-set drama. The social media hysteria surrounding the release is largely the selling point now, creating more artificial hype than even the Warner Bros. PR department could hope for. The reality, however, is much more prosaic – rather innocuous, even – as Olivia Wilde’s latest feature effort is a lush, twisty genre film that wishes it could be as daring as its background drama.

Set in a fictional American town in the 1950s, the plot follows Alice (Florence Pugh), a suburban housewife living inside the “Victory Project” housing complex – a utopian society that champions its traditionalist values. Her husband, Jack (Harry Styles), seems to be unphased by the mysterious nature of his employment at the Project’s research headquarters; just like the rest of his exclusively male colleagues, he practically prays at the altar of the mysterious head of the company, Frank (Chris Pine), whose lavish antics appear closer to a cult than a regular business practice. When Alice starts to question Frank’s intentions and the Victory Project’s ideals, she realizes the town could be much more sinister than its halcyon reputation.

There is a kind of inoffensive peculiarity to Don’t Worry Darling: between its sumptuous presentation and the visibly referential nature of the film (think Stepford Wives of the post-Get Out era), Wilde’s campy thriller is ultimately a sexy rendition of the classic formula. A story of control by way of hegemonic masculinity, Darling is less interested in being a conversation piece and steers clear of exploring its cautiously muddled take on gender norms, instead veering firmly into the pulpy 90s thriller territory. Wilde is precise in her studio-film aspirations, crafting a work that radiates with luxury and decidedly toothless social commentary.

Most importantly, though, this is a film of simple thrills – and in that department, one can’t fault Wilde and her frequent collaborator Katie Silberman for delivering exactly the desired experience. The anachronistic pleasures of the set design, nightmarish burlesque sequences featuring a cameo from Dita Von Teese, mockery of incels and their podcast cults – it’s treading a familiar (dystopian) territory yet makes a rather compelling spectacle out of it. This wonderland isn’t for Alice – if the ostensibly patriarchal regime wasn’t enough of a clue – and the world created here feels as appropriately menacing as its malevolent ruler.

As expected, this is Florence Pugh’s film through and through: the way she navigates through the dark side of suburbia is magnetic and controlled, deftly deconstructing the “obedient housewife” façade for the girlboss finale. In fact, she’s at her best when acting opposite the equally committed Chris Pine, whose Jordan Peterson-esque, “debate me” outing as the playboy tycoon/male chauvinist cult leader perfectly suits the film’s reverence for excess.

Oddly enough, it feels like Don’t Worry Darling fell victim to wrong expectations: despite being pushed as prestige awards fare, the film is more in line with stylish, studio-backed summer thrillers and campy genre films. This will undoubtedly alienate the audience anticipating something entirely different given the drama backstage, but for what it is, Wilde’s sophomore effort is a glossy, confident effort that simply could’ve used a bit more bold ambition.

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