You’ve probably heard about Olivia Wilde’s new film, Don’t Worry Darling, in recent weeks. Following Wilde’s critically acclaimed directorial debut in Booksmart, her sophomore film is one of the most anticipated films of 2022, and has been the subject of a lot of chatter online. The film stars Florence Pugh as Alice Chambers, and Harry Styles as her husband Jack Chambers. The couple lives in the seemingly perfect desert town called Victory, with stereotypical 1950s gender roles. We are told that the men are “changing the world” through their work at the headquarters out in the desert, while the women are forced to stay at home.
In an interview with Vogue, Olivia Wilde talked about sex scenes in movies, and the lack of female pleasure in them. She certainly does her part in changing that trend in a sex scene between the film’s leading couple. Besides the steamy moments however, the film is definitely not about female pleasure. Instead, it’s about the power and control that the men exert over the women and their lives. The film shows Alice’s experiences being constantly gaslit and not taken seriously once she starts to wonder if her life in Victory isn’t so perfect. I would also highly encourage you to also read reviews by women/women of color like this one by Rachel Leishman from The Mary Sue or this one by Hoai-Tran Bui from Slashfilm.
Don’t Worry Darling premieres September 23, 2022 in theaters.
Alice and Jack are lucky to be living in the idealized community of Victory, the experimental company town housing the men who work for the top-secret Victory Project and their families. The 1950’s societal optimism espoused by their CEO, Frank—equal parts corporate visionary and motivational life coach—anchors every aspect of daily life in the tight-knit desert utopia. While the husbands spend every day inside the Victory Project Headquarters, working on the “development of progressive materials,” their wives—including Frank’s elegant partner, Shelley—get to spend their time enjoying the beauty, luxury and debauchery of their community. Life is perfect, with every resident’s needs met by the company. All they ask in return is discretion and unquestioning commitment to the Victory cause. But when cracks in her idyllic life begin to appear, exposing flashes of something much more sinister lurking beneath the attractive façade, Alice can’t help questioning exactly what they’re doing in Victory, and why. Just how much is Alice willing to lose to expose what’s really going on in this paradise?
REVIEW – A Visual Feast That Doesn’t Stick the Landing
Olivia Wilde does an incredible job directing and she also plays the character Bunny in the movie. The picture is beautiful, with great work from all the artists involved; you can’t take your eyes off of the screen. The costumes, the production designs, and the cinematography are all top notch, and the score elevates it to create a truly cinematic experience. The cast is also stellar throughout.
Florence Pugh easily steals the show and delivers one of my favorite acting performances of the year. She is simply amazing in this film. Pugh entrances the audience in Alice’s emotions, and there is a wide range of them in this story. She is so good at expressing her character’s emotions, at times even without words. The script dedicates a lot of time to developing Alice (and pretty much only Alice) and the sound and music help to enhance the journey. During some tense, mysterious moments, there are repeating vocal cues that combine with eerie music that elevate the emotions, sometimes to horror-like levels.
Pugh and Harry Styles are great together on screen. It’s almost impossible to match Pugh’s performance, but Styles does an admirable job of his own, especially considering this is his second film, and in some scenes is able to rise to Pugh’s level.
The supporting cast is also excellent. There is not a bad performance in this movie. Chris Pine (Frank) and Gemma Chan (Shelley) make for a really good couple on screen, though unfortunately we don’t see too much of them. Speaking with Interview Magazine, Wilde explained that Frank was inspired by Jordan Peterson, and Pine is amazing in the role. Frank is dangerously idolized by the men in town, and he is important to the Victory Project.
There is only one scene in the film where Frank and Alice are equals, which is the dinner party scene. Wilde did an incredible breakdown of that scene for Vanity Fair, and the tension between the actors in that moment is amazing. I wish we could have seen Pugh and Pine in more scenes together. It is the first time Alice’s concerns are validated and it really grabbed my attention until the end. While Gemma Chan is very commanding in her scenes, it would have been great to see more of her, including a little of Shelley’s backstory. Chan was unfortunately underused.
Aside from Pugh’s Alice, the film doesn’t lend much time to developing characters. It would have served the wider narrative to show us some backstory or motivations of some of the other women in the town, specifically Chan’s Shelley. I want to know more about someone whose husband is a cult-like leader of Victory. Especially after a couple of the final reveals, it felt like a missed opportunity.
I also want to mention the treatment of the women of color in this film, such as Kiki Lane’s character Margaret. Like Alice, she asks too many question and is labeled as crazy by everyone around her, but especially by Bunny (a white woman). Without delving into spoilers, Margaret goes through quite a few really heavy things and it was off-putting to dump all of that trauma on a Black woman. The character was previously meant to be played by Dakota Johnson, but it was a poor way to handle the character since it doesn’t seem to recognize or comment on the racism and power white women can hold over women of color.
Don’t Worry Darling has an excellent setup of mystery, with plenty of thrills and expertly built tension between Alice and the rest of the cast, but does not have much of a payoff. When it’s all said and done, it feels like the answers we are given are just the tip of the iceberg and the world we are presented with needs more exploring. For example, in the end, a couple of huge things happen that are unrelated to Alice, but we don’t see how they play out at all, which is frustrating. Aside from the unsatisfying conclusion, this film is a great picture with many great acting performances that are worth checking out.
RATING – 3/5 Pocky
Jorgie is a pop culture fan and contributor at POCculture.com. He loves learning about visual effects, production, film, and art, and how they all come together to make films like Star Wars.