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Review: “Don’t Worry Darling”: not quite a victory

Director Olivia Wilde’s Stepford-esque psychological thriller falls flat.
Image by Mary Ellen Ritter

Director Olivia Wilde’s widely anticipated and much discussed sophomore film takes place in a remote desert community called Victory.

There, everyone is impeccably dressed; all swinging cocktail dresses and dapper suits. Like clockwork, the men take off in glimmering cars every morning as their loving wives bid them adieu. While the men spend their days participating in the top-secret “Victory Project,” the women embark upon days filled with domestic duties. They clean their houses to community leader Frank’s (Chris Pine) daily radio show, shop from displays that offer them everything free of charge and gossip about everyone else in Victory.

“Don’t Worry Darling” follows the young couple Alice (Florence Pugh) and Jack (Harry Styles), an impeccably pretty pair that can’t seem to take their hands off of one another. They live a seemingly happy life, hosting cocktail parties — with a drink never too far from reach — with next-door neighbors Bunny (Olivia Wilde) and Bill (Nick Kroll).

At the top of their idealistic community’s social ladder reigns the coolly charismatic Frank and his wife Shelley (Gemma Chan). Although we’re offered no explanation as to why this is, everyone bows to the pair. He leads the mysterious “Victory Project,” directing the men. She oversees daily ballet classes for the women, habitually uttering the mantra: “There is beauty in control; there is grace in symmetry.”

The whole thing is very ‘50s, and very “Stepford Wives.” Women act as they should, men take care of the rest. But what exactly are the men taking care of? And more importantly, what is everyone doing in Victory? These are the questions that drive the film, although their eventual answers remain just as vague.

From the sunshine-yellow yolks of the eggs Alice makes every morning to the megawatt smiles of every carefully-coiffed individual in Victory, everything is evidently too perfect. Something is clearly amiss in town, a realization Alice spends the majority of the film struggling to understand. Pugh can act, and Styles pales in comparison. Pugh delivers a full-bodied, compelling performance as Alice. Styles’ portrayal of Jack struggles to shine beyond a certain kitchen table cunnilingus scene.

Wilde drags things on for far too long. Some of the gratuitous shots of sizzling steaks could have been replaced by just a bit more action. The two-hour runtime contains no shortage of flourishing cinematography from the Oscar-nominated Matthew Libatique, from overhead shots of synchronized dance routines to a glitzy party scene involving American vedette Dita Von Teese. Yet, as “Don’t Worry Darling” themes argue, beauty can only go so far. Wilde might have sought further success in tightening the storyline and clearing up gaps left in the plot.

“Don’t Worry Darling” earned a $19 million opening weekend, despite — or maybe because of — its off-screen celebrity drama. Judging by the audible shrieks in the theater, and some audience data, it’s safe to assume a majority of viewers might also be avid fans of Styles. While you might be more entertained by the film’s seemingly never-ending swirl of rumors in the press, “Don’t Worry Darling” is still worth a watch. The movie does, in fact, feel like a movie; perhaps more so than it feels like a fully-fleshed out piece of feminist commentary.

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