Most moviegoers had Sept. 23, 2022 marked on their calendars since “Don’t Worry Darling,” writer-director Olivia Wilde’s follow-up to the surprise smash-hit “Booksmart,” was announced in August 2019. Gossip followers may have also had their eyes on that date after a series of reports involving various instances of drama on and off the set. Spitting accusations aside, we can now judge the film for ourselves. Unfortunately, more intriguing and exciting drama can be found surrounding the film rather than in the film itself.
The film follows young couple Alice (Florence Pugh) and Jack (Harry Styles) as they live out their lives in the pictureesque suburbia Victory. But not all is as it seems in this perfect world, as Alice soon finds out: let the strange occurrences begin.
If this sounds like something you’ve seen before, you’d be right. It would be hard to count on both hands the number of films that have utilized the “not everything is as it seems” premise before (“The Truman Show” and “Pleasantville” just to name a few); “Darling” doesn’t do much to differentiate itself from the other fingers.
While, in premise, the film may feel familiar, it also attempts to play on relevant themes by having Alice break free from the reins of her overbearing and gaslighting husband to become more than just a housewife. However, the film never goes beyond a surface level exploration of gender, leaving much to be desired in both its storytelling and messaging.
This is largely due to a phenomenally half-baked script. Writer Katie Silberman never makes full use of the world that’s presented. We spend so much time in Victory that, once the inevitable plot twist happens, we’re already in the third act and we’ve got no time to lose to make sure Alice can achieve her inevitable liberation. It’s frustrating to see the potential in the foundations of the world and the disappointingly cookie-cutter house they made with it.
Wilde’s directing is also extraordinarily ordinary. She announced a strong presence and innate talent for directing with “Booksmart,” but none of that excitement makes it over to “Darling.” Each scene just sort of absentmindedly meanders from one to the next, and none of the various strange happenings feel all that strange. You end up pondering the awkwardness of most scenes more than the mystery she’s attempting to construct.
Pugh is, unsurprisingly, the best part about the film. Even when the script seems like it’s dying on the vine, Pugh’s sheer star power swoops in just in time to perform lifesaving CPR. This is until Styles comes in to tear Pugh away and beat the script within an inch of its life; suffice to say, Styles’ acting is endearing at best. At worst, it’s unconvincing and pulls you out of a world that already only has half of your attention.
Luckily for us, Pugh does have at least one worthy opponent to go toe-to-toe with in the form of Chris Pine’s charismatic and deceptively slick Frank. While they don’t share as many scenes as they should have, when they are on screen together, it feels like you’re watching the movie that “Don’t Worry Darling” should have been. Pugh perfectly matches Pine’s energy, and I hope we’ll have the opportunity to see them on screen again down the road.
“Darling” boasts some impressive talent behind the camera as well: cinematographer Matthew Libatique, best known for his work with Darren Aronofsky (“Black Swan,” “Requiem for a Dream”), lends his remarkable eye to this film. Unfortunately, while the cinematography is still far from bad, it isn’t nearly as extraordinary as other films in Libatique’s filmography; it’s objectively good, but it doesn’t stand out.
This would have made for an excellent tagline for the film as it applies to almost every single aspect of the movie: Do you want to see something that you’ve absolutely seen before? Do you want to leave the theater feeling disappointed and only able to sort of recall a few scenes from a two-hour-long movie? Then stop on in for “Don’t Worry Darling,” where you’re bound to see nothing you’ve never seen before. Or maybe just wait until it’s streaming.
John Scott is the editor-in-chief at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JScott050901