Coming at us with a fair amount of controversy surrounding potential casting, weird sweat drenched videos, clashes between stars and directors and potential awards considering, Olivia Wilde’s second directorial effort has a lot riding on it.
From the off we are introduced to Alice Chambers (Florence Pugh) who lives in an idyllic town of Victory where her husband Jack (Harry Styles) works for the mysterious Frank (Chris Pine). The men leave to work in the desert of the Victory Project by day while the women smoke, drink cocktails and make sure the house is ready for their hard working men to come to. But cracks are appearing in the veneer of this perfect world.
Wilde does have a strong directorial eye, and her use of subliminal images is very confident. Whatever else is true of her actions on set, her grip on visual presentation is there. Opening scenes of domestic bliss look drawn from classic commercials of Americana, and for anyone who devoured WandaVision or has seen a David Lynch film will know, behind the green green grass lurks dark horrors.
Perhaps Wilde is a little too concerned with playing it as a thriller to fully commit to a horror film, which would have served the Ira Levin style Stepford Wives narrative the film is pushing. Not everything in this world makes perfect sense – the recurring motif of ballet for example isn’t exactly clear, but when it does work – consumerism, the idea of music travelling, abuse behind closed doors works wonders.
It helps that Florence “Miss Flo” Pugh is an actress on monstrous talent. While the screenplay by Katie Silberman doesn’t quite give her enough to work with at times, but some pointed lines of dialogue – her husband once pleads with her not to be hysterical – speak to themes of the film. Pugh has yet to phone in a performance and here carries the film with ease. From the domestic bliss scenes, to tense dinner table confrontations, she channels her inner Gena Rowlands to great affect.
In fact, for the most part, Wilde has cast well. Even herself as a gossipy neighbour and husband to Nick Kroll’s ladder climber are perfectly judged, though there is a criminal waste of Gemma Chan is an issue as once again she shows a range of emotions by barely moving her face. It’s actually Chris Pine as the fearless leader of Victory that chews the scenery. His all-American leading man good looks is used to great affect as the often quite scary boss.
It’s unfortunate that Harry Styles is miscast. He’s not awful, but the role of Jack would require someone who has those Kennedy looks with a dark side, a young James Marsden or Patrick Wilson type, and the big dramatic scenes aren’t suited to Styles who excels at quite moments.
The third act, while unhinged, will divide people. Unlike the home-run revelations of Get Out, Don’t Worry Darling doesn’t quite have the breathing room to unveil it’s mysteries and it’s message properly often resorting to breathy monologues and telling not showing. But Wilde manages to build a pulse pounding climax that is fun, if not entirely satisfying.
Neither classic nor catastrophe, this is a film carries by often impressive visual flair and mostly great performances but it’ll spark debate for sure. There may, for Wilde’s career behind the camera, be something to worry about.