One of the most anticipated films of 2022 was Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling, a psychological thriller starring Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Chris Pine and Olivia Wilde herself. It was sold to audiences as a film about a 1950’s housewife in an experimental community, who begins to question her husband’s mysterious workplace – a quite promising plot. The trailer dropped in May of 2022, depicting just that. Florence as the bubbly housewife of Styles in a beautifully stylistic 1950/60’s, who are living life to the fullest, surrounded by their friends in a secluded community named The Victory Project. Everything seems to be going well, until Pugh starts to question the project as life around her begins to literally fall apart; a plane crash into the nearby desert, her eggs appear to be hollow, her reflection in the mirror doesn’t follow her and a wall in her house moves forward, towards the opposite window, squishing her in between the two. While the community around her attempts to keep her quiet, Pugh’s character is hellbent on discovering the truth.
If the A-list line-up of Pugh, Pine and especially Styles didn’t encourage viewers to buy their cinema tickets, perhaps the controversy did. The film was laced with rumours of conflicts, relationship-drama, an alleged sacking, and spitting. To cut it as short as humanly possible, the rumours started with the news that Shia LeBeouf had been fired by Wilde, due to poor behaviour that, according to the director, made Pugh uncomfortable. He was subsequently replaced with Styles, who began a relationship with Wilde during filming, although “Page Six” suggested the relationship began whilst Wilde was still married to long-term husband Jason Sudeikis. LaBeouf vehemently denied these accusations and leaked a video that did not do any particular favours for Wilde, who was then also rumoured to have had many and massive arguments with Pugh during filming. The lead actress made several comments claiming to have been uncomfortable with the press surrounding the film’s many sexual scenes and, ultimately, missed the premiere and all other press for the film, with the exception of appearance at the movie’s Venice Film Festival premiere. During the Festival, the internet convinced itself that Styles spat into the lap of Pine moments before the screening, although everybody denied such a thing happened.
I can tell you now – the drama was far more entertaining than the movie. Am I being harsh? Possibly. It’s not that it’s not entertaining, because the film has some really good positives. It’s just that the positives appear like pebbles next to the cliff that is the negatives.
If you haven’t yet seen the film and are wanting to do so - beware. Spoilers ahead.
The film is far too hellbent on driving the mystique home. Therefore, when the plot twist happens to be as lacklustre and foreseeable as it is, the entire film falls flat. Pugh’s character Alice spends the majority of the film questioning everything, down to her own sanity, and the reveal that she was knocked out and forced into a form of comatose state by her husband, Jack, and is now trapped and living in a simulation, doesn’t quite live up to the hour and a half we’ve invested into this film. Plainly speaking, a predictable simulation-plot simply just isn’t strong enough to hold the weight of this film on its shoulders. Especially not when asks more question then it answers.
Throughout the film, Alice has several instances of hallucinations or oddities that she witnesses. All of these are obvious signs to Alice and the viewer that something’s definitely wrong, but when looking back upon them with the knowledge of the ending, they still aren’t explained. Alice covering her head with plastic wrap or breaking empty eggs, first of all, doesn’t relate at all to The Victory Project, nor does it comment on whether the company or community is illegitimate. It almost appears as if those glitches-in-the-matrix scenes were solely added for a chock-factor, and something that was purely intended to be included in the trailer, which every single one of the strange scenes are. Besides the scenes not being much of a statement regarding the actual mystery of the film, i.e. The Victory Project, the film also do not patch any of the plot holes that the scenes leave behind.
Usually, confusing scenes in films are meant to do one of two things. The first is, they are meant to confuse and leave the audience in a state where they need to watch the remainder of the film, or in some cases rewatch the film, in order to get the answer or understand the relevance. Otherwise, they are meant to confuse the character, leaving them in a state of panic, bewilderment, mania or another turbulent emotional state. Sometimes, the character will never find the explanation or the relevance, but that shouldn’t necessarily the film’s objective. The objective should however always be to leave the audience informed, when they either finish the film or rewatch it. I have watched the film three times now and still cannot explain why Alice’s reflection stayed in the mirror, when she dips her head below the water of her bathtub. It is neither explained nor does it really make a difference. If the film had wholeheartedly delved into a plot-line where Alice’s simulation-device started to malfunction or Frank, the founder and creator of Victory, had acknowledged that there’s a bug in the program, one that Alice had become aware of, it might have made a difference.
In order to fully highlight this point, I want to compare this film to Black Swan, who I think makes a great example of how to do glitches correctly. Besides the one hallucination caused by drug-use, all of Nathalie Portman’s character Nina’s visions are a direct representation of her descent into madness, hysteria and paranoia. They work because Nina mostly hallucinates about seeing herself or Lily, played by Mila Kunis, both of which are Nina’s direct enemies. Black Swan mainly revolves around a New York ballet company’s production of Swan Lake, which features the main ballerina playing both the Black and the White Swan. The concept of duality and evil vs. good within the same body are some of the main themes of the film alongside the loss of innocence. It means that Nina’s hallucinations about her being evil or turning into the Black Swan are a direct correlation to her mental state and how ‘ready’ and close she is to the perfection she so desperately strive for. Similarly, the repeatedly and increasingly sexual instances also help guide the viewer to knowing how much of her initial innocence she has lost. Even though the hallucinations aren’t necessarily explained via plot twists or an outright schizophrenic diagnosis, they make sense within the film, because Nina’s descent into madness through her strive to perfection is the basis of the entire film. The film’s plot twist isn’t that she was mad all along – that much was obvious. Instead the twist is that her need for control and perfection ended up being her destruction and most likely her demise.
It would be entirely unfair to blame Don’t Worry Darling on its inability to intergrade its glitches properly. When looking at it with a societal commentary point of view, there are far bigger issues with this film. The whole concept of consent leaves so many new and horrible plot holes, that includes the scenes where Alice and Jack are intimate, which are then rendered far more sinister, considering Alice is unable to consent to have sexual relations because she’s unaware of the actual situation. Similarly, the film refuses to truly make Jack an abusing and controlling jerk, like he was in the original script. Alice’s one attempt at telling him that he is not allowed to make decisions about her life on her behalf is slightly overshadowed by Jack insisting that she was unhappy with her job and has instead found joy in Victory. It makes the unfortunate, and undoubtably coincidental, assertion that the only issue is the circumstances of how they got to Victory, and it plays into the idea of that women would be happier if things got back to how they were in 1950. If Jack had truly been a horrible character the whole movie through or revealed to have been one, the audiences would never get to experience his righteousness, because his status as a cemented villain would mean the audience wouldn’t accept it.
Just because I spent a while driving home while I ultimately really dislike this film, that doesn’t mean that I’m not big enough to actual list those few positives that I fleetingly mentioned earlier. Don’t Worry Darling comes off the back of Wilde’s directorial debut Booksmart, which I highly anybody watch. It’s an insanely good film, it’s light-hearted and fun and it really seems to understand the current generation, which is exactly why it is so likeable. It’s insane to me how completely opposite it is to its follow-up. Booksmart felt like a tiny fish in a big pond, but one that had guts and heart. Don’t Worry Darling is an empire, ambitious and grand, but one that lacks personality. I had high hopes for whatever Wilde would put out next, because, in my opinion, her debut proved that she’s not a bad director. I’m a bit wobbly now after watching some of her horrible decisions in Don’t Worry Darling.
Why? Because my problems mainly lied within the script.
The actual direction, the set design, the hair/makeup/costume department all did a good job. The film is absolutely beautiful. The cinematographer and the production designer probably deserve the biggest applause of them all, because it’s so incredibly stylistic and the aesthetic direction of the film is so clear and vivid. Florence Pugh and Chris Pine delivers great performances, although Pugh is hindered by her on-screen partner. Since Harry Styles isn’t a gifted enough actor to entirely pull of this character, it means that his performance during emotion scenes do not reach the desired heights, which in turn, means that Pugh cannot reach her desired heights. It results in half-awkward ‘fights’, that are basically discussions where Jack slightly raises his voice once, leaving Alice stunned and heartbroken. When considering that the scenes were most likely supposed to have been screaming matches, or at least Jack screaming at Alice, the stunned reaction seems natural. But that’s not what they are. Which is why Pugh’s acting seems like a slight overreaction, when Styles never become angry or upset enough. That being said, Pugh does the absolute best she can, with what she’s being given. More often than not, it feels like she’s the one who understands the film and it’s tone more than anyone – even Olivia Wilde. Pine, too, is one of few to truly understand their character and the role he has to play within Victory. Long before anything else feels weird, Frank feels weird and the power he has feels cult-y. Much like Pugh, it is a shame that Pine isn’t given enough to work with, in terms of his aforementioned power. When Alice questions is, he’s all talk but never seems to be in control enough to properly destroy her as a threat, even after she has killed Jack. Instead, he is killed by his own wife, played by Gemma Chan, who sneers that it’s “her turn now,” but is not given enough screen time to explain what on earth she means and is then never heard from afterwards. It’s only slightly confusing.
Don’t Worry Darling is a mess. It’s a beautiful mess, that had quite a lot of potential, but fell completely flat due to its own persistence in limiting itself to be solely about mystery. It’s one of the very few films I’ve watched that both felt too long and too short, and it never seemed to even want to answer any of the questions it kept asking.