The Beauty of Don’t Worry Darling Almost Covers Up Its Plot Holes
James Jay Edwards reviews Don’t Worry Darling, a psychological thriller film directed by Olivia Wilde, written by Katie Silberman, and starring Florence Pugh. (Warner Bros. Pictures)
Actor-turned-writer/director Olivia Wilde’s first feature was the best (and most criminally underseen) comedy of 2019, Booksmart. For her sophomore effort, she decided to give psychological drama a try with Don’t Worry Darling.
(Don’t Worry Darling, theatrical release poster, courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)
Behind the scenes, production was notoriously fraught with tension, resulting in the firing of one actor mid-shoot and another actor deciding to not do much promotion for the movie. But enough about the off-camera drama, how’s the movie?
Don’t Worry Darling takes place in a ’50s utopian housing development where the husbands go off to work at a facility called The Victory Project while the wives stay home all day, confined to their little slice of the world. When one of the wives, a clever woman named Alice (Midsommar’s Florence Pugh), notices strange things happening, she begins to suspect that the company at which her husband, Jack (pop star Harry Styles from One Direction), works with all of the other husbands, the one owned by a charismatic and enigmatic man named Frank (Chris Pine from Star Trek) and that provides all of the employees with free housing, may be based on secrets and lies.
(Don’t Worry Darling, photo by Merrick Morton, courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)
Written by Katie Silberman (who also wrote Booksmart for Wilde) from a story she cooked up with Shane and Carey Van Dyke (the brothers who wrote The Chernobyl Diaries and grandsons of the legendary Dick Van Dyke), Don’t Worry Darling has a fascinating and intriguing concept. And the first half of the movie is just as fascinating and intriguing as that concept. The world that Wilde sets up, sort of a Pleasantville type of a “those were the days” utopia, is almost inviting, but the audience knows that a Shyamalanian twist is coming. It’s clear from the start that Victorytown is not what it seems to be. It’s too perfect.
As the mystery behind Don’t Worry Darling unravels, so does the movie itself. Alice begins to notice cracks in the façade of The Victory Project in general and Frank in particular, and while these observations make for some curious and engaging viewing, the ultimate experience falls short of the buildup. There are plot holes galore, and the reasoning behind some of the strangeness never gets fully explained, so the mystery is never satisfyingly solved. There are nagging questions that remain after the credits roll.
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To her credit, Olivia Wilde knows how to make an aesthetically sound movie. Production designer Katie Byron (C’mon C’mon) and costume designer Arianne Phillips (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) pay excruciating attention to detail while building Wilde’s period-perfect tract home world. Cinematographer Matthew Libatique (Black Swan, Mother!) uses his swirling, spinning camera work to ratchet up the tension and paranoia. And composer John Powell (Solo: A Star Wars Story) turns in a score that manages to sell the “bright future” concept of the film without letting the audience forget that they are watching a psychological mystery.
Casting-wise, Florence Pugh carries the movie. She is clearly the central figure (as she should be), and she shows why she is one of the most celebrated young actresses working in Hollywood today. Harry Styles is surprisingly good as well, with Wilde even giving him a creepily frenetic dance scene to prove that, yes, this is still Harry Styles. Chris Pine plays his combination CEO/Life Coach character with all of the zest and vigor of a televangelist (although, without as much drama), nailing down the role of the closest thing the movie has to an antagonist. The rest of the cast (including Wilde herself, who pops in and out as one of Alice’s housewife friends) is average, but they’re not the focus. Everyone rides on Pugh’s shoulders, and she handles the weight.
(Don’t Worry Darling, courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)
In the end, Don’t Worry Darling is one of those technically well-made movies that fails to deliver the goods on the narrative front. It’s beautiful to look at but leaves the viewer with more questions than answers. Which, in some cases, works well, but unfortunately, not in this one. It just winds up leaving its audience unsatisfied.
Don’t Worry Darling is now playing exclusively in theaters.
Check out the podcast Eye On Horror for more with James Jay Edwards, and also features Jonathan Correia and Jacob Davison.