When I settled down for the screening of Don’t Worry Darling, my expectations, like the crushed kernels of yesterday’s popcorn, were on the floor.
We all know about the Don’t Worry Darling drama off-screen and those… dubious clips of Harry Styles’ acting ability, so when I went into that theatre, I fully expected to leave disappointed.
But I think that somewhere in the process, we forgot that this is the same director of Booksmart and that the likes of Chris Pine and Florence Pugh, genuinely incredible actors, were at the forefront of this thriller movie. Of course, that isn’t to say that the film is groundbreaking — it’s like Black Mirror and white feminism had a baby — but does it deserve the beating it’s gotten by other critics? In my opinion, not necessarily.
Don’t get me wrong: Don’t Worry Darling is, at its core, a very average film. The drama movie basically tells the story of a 1950s housewife living in Victory, an experimental utopian community headed by a charismatic leader, who starts to suspect that her life isn’t everything as it seems.
The whole cult-master’s-wife-giving-ballet-lessons thing made no sense given that the pair were meant to be notoriously private, and just seemed like a contrived excuse for Wilde to get some pretty shots.
There was that same repetitive soundbite of heaving women telling us every time we were meant to feel scared, and certain camera angles like the eggs and the toast and the coffee felt a bit like a GCSE Media Studies student’s attempt to look arty. And I can say that with confidence, as a former GCSE Media Studies student who literally did that.
That being said, Wilde’s potential as a horror movie director shouldn’t be understated. While a lot of the more abstract shots felt contrived and amateur, the nightmare/hallucination sequences were genuinely scary, and her moments of gore, blood, and violence are selective, but all the more impactful.
Sadly, a lot of these good scenes are peppered in with more absurd ones like Pugh getting smushed by a glass window, or experiencing other strange, out-of-body experiences like when she visits the Victory HQ — but the more abstract shots, hallucinations, and gaps in logic all make a lot more sense once we reach the final act of the film.
Truth be told, the thrilling final act of Don’t Worry Darling is what rescues it from being a ‘bad’ film and makes it into an ‘OK’ film instead. The only thing that makes the first two-thirds of the film watchable is the performances of Pugh and Chris Pine. With a weak script and done-to-death ‘everyone thinks I’m crazy but I’m not’ angle, poor Miss Flo isn’t given anything particularly compelling to work with, but she’s such an emotional performer that she does her best to make it work — and she partly succeeds.
The problem is that Pugh and her on-screen husband, Jack (Harry Styles) had absolutely zero chemistry. It felt like Harry Styles was literally just playing Harry Styles for the first two-thirds of the film, with no emotion spare for a placid smile or grunt. At points, it felt like Pugh was just lugging around a pet rock because she was giving everything and getting barely anything back in return. And as for their ‘groundbreaking’ sex scenes, while the idea of giving women pleasure is a nice one, the mechanical execution of these scenes felt about as passionate as a colonoscopy.
Someone that Pugh did have great on-screen chemistry with, however, was Chris Pine. He’s disturbingly good at playing the much-revered cult leader to the point where if he actually started a cult, I would be first in line to sign up. He was charming, gentle, but also quietly threatening: oozing as much danger as he did charisma. If it weren’t for those two, the already bloated, dragging, first two acts of the film would’ve been completely unwatchable.
As for the supporting cast, there isn’t much to shout about. Gemma Chan once again plays robotic-woman-with-edge who very predictably turns against Frank at the last moment, while Olivia Wilde also played a very generic role as the best friend who was a little bit too into the whole Victory thing.
I need to give praise where its due, however — Wilde and Styles both stepped up their acting game in the movie’s final act, with both of their characters going in a direction that genuinely surprised me with compelling backstories. Nick Kroll, who plays Wilde’s on-screen husband, also had a lot of potential, as one of Victory’s most passionate advocates, but was, in my opinion, underused.
Maybe I’m naive, but the story behind Victory and how it all came to be genuinely came as a surprise to me, with the plot twist being especially compelling because of its grounding in modern issues like ‘alpha male’ podcasters, the ‘manosphere,’ and online radicalisation.
Personally, I wish we could’ve delved deeper into the background of Victory and some of the other characters, because the plot twist and Victory’s origin is by far the most interesting part of the film, but feels a little rushed, half-baked, and underdeveloped.
Maybe Don’t Worry Darling would’ve worked better as a limited TV series in that respect — but I guess it wasn’t to be because that would involve the cast having to be in the same room as each other for even longer.
Don’t Worry Darling is released in cinemas on September 23.
Don’t Worry Darling review
The final act saves this disjointed, repetitive vanity project