The Movie Waffler New to VOD - DON’T WORRY DARLING | The Movie Waffler


A housewife begins to suspect her life is not all it seems.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Olivia Wilde

Starring: Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Chris Pine, Olivia Wilde, KiKi Layne, Nick Kroll, Gemma Chan

dont worry darling poster

A troubled young woman ducks her head under the waterline of her bath. The same woman looks in a bathroom mirror, but when she moves away her reflection remains in place. Within a single scene of her second movie as director, Olivia Wilde pulls off two of the most over-used visual clichés of the last two decades. Don't Worry Darling is so derivative that you'll find yourself concluding that Wilde is either knowingly ripping off dozens of other movies or she has never seen another movie in her life and believes she's the first filmamker to employ these hackneyed ideas.

The central premise is one that we've seen countless times in movies and TV shows of the past couple of decades, though it has its roots in 1960s sci-fi TV. We open on what at first glance appears to be suburban America in the 1950s. The fashion is from that era, as are the music, the cars and the gender roles. But wait, there are inter-racial couples and women walking around topless in public, so this clearly isn't really 1950s America. And what's with that character's terrible British accent? He's obviously not really British, is he? Don't Worry Darling is so predicated on its final act twist, which every audience member will have guessed within the opening five minutes, that the entire movie becomes redundant.

dont worry darling review

In this pseudo-Atomic Age milieu we find our heroine, twenty-something housewife Alice Chambers (Florence Pugh). She and her husband Jack (Harry Styles), he of the dodgy British accent, have recently moved to Victory, a company town ostensibly isolated in the California desert. The men claim to be working on the manufacture of "progressive materials," but they're sworn to secrecy and can't divulge the nature of their jobs to their wives, who don’t seem all that curious anyway. When the men drive off to some sort of underground facility every morning (the movie's most striking image is of dozens of 1950s American cars making their way through the desert like a convoy from a Mad Max movie), the women head into town to spend the day shopping, practicing ballet and hanging out by the pool.

One wife, Margaret (KiKi Layne), appears to have a breakdown at a gathering at the home of the company head, Frank (Chris Pine), shouting about how something is wrong. Most dismiss her as suffering from delusions, but it sparks something in Alice, who has been having subliminal flashes of what looks like chorus girls in a Marilyn Manson video.

dont worry darling review

The audience is always several steps ahead of Alice, not because Wilde and screenwriter Katie Silberman have fashioned the narrative in that way to mine Hitchcockian suspense, but because we've already seen this story several times before, most recently in an episode of a hugely popular sci-fi show. Alice's investigation into what's going on around her isn't remotely interesting. At one point she just blurts out a series of expository revelations, but we haven't seen any evidence of how she might have come to those conclusions, as though a good chunk of the second act was edited out to keep the running time down.

While Don’t Worry Darling is one of the year's worst films, it boasts one of the year's best performances courtesy of Pugh. Somehow she manages to bring humanity to her flatly written and generic heroine, and at times you momentarily forget how awful the movie she's anchoring really is. And it really is awful. Wilde is lucky she has clout as an actress, because if any woman director who didn't have Wilde's background made a movie this bad their career would be over and the film would be used as a cudgel to collectively beat women filmmakers with.

dont worry darling review

[Spoilers begin] Okay, I need to get into spoilers to discuss some of the reasons the film is terrible, so you have been warned. As is obvious from the very first frames (and as most of us guessed as soon as the trailer was released), Alice isn't living in 1950s America at all, but rather she's stuck in a simulation in the present day. It's revealed that Alice is actually a nurse in the real world. She's married to Jack, except he's not a suave Brit but a lank-haired American slacker who spends his time on the internet listening to Frank, who it turns out is a Jordan Peterson-esque figurehead for angry young misogynists. Frank has come up with a way for men to return to the gender norms of the mid-20th century by entering a virtual reality world, which begs the question of why guys who look like Harry bloody Styles and Chris bloody Pine would need to take such extreme measures to get laid? And why is the broke Jack selected for this project, which surely would only be offered to the elites of the world? Why is Jack made to pretend he's British when none of the other men in the project are lumbered with such a burden? But the biggest question is why the 1950s? Why would a bunch of men who spend all their time on the internet openly choose to deny themselves the technological advancements and resources of the last seven decades? Is a qualifier for taking part a love of 1950s music? There are many other questions, like why is Alice having her chorus girl flashbacks, why would Frank build hints of the outside world like planes flying overhead into his simulation, and what is the role of Frank's wife (Gemma Chan) in all of this? But when it comes to Don’t Worry Darling, the biggest question is why does Wilde think none of us have seen The Prisoner, The Truman Show, The Matrix, The Village, and most of all, the 'USS Callister' episode of Black Mirror? [Spoilers end]

Don't Worry Darling
 is on UK/ROI VOD now.

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