Don't Worry Darling: Review
After months mired in controversies ranging from "SpitGate" to Director Olivia Wilde and star Florence Pugh enduring a shouting match that resulted in Pugh not promoting the film, “Don't Worry Darling” finally saw the light of day on Sept. 23. The film garnered significant attention as a slew of tabloid-fodder discoveries ranging from humorous oddities to genuinely disturbing findings plagued the production process. The behind-the-scenes discord is not too apparently onscreen, but that doesn't save Darling from becoming a vapid piece of generic science fiction storytelling.
Wilde, a long-respected actress who seamlessly transitioned to a directorial role with 2019's coming-of-age comedy “Booksmart,” strives for meaningful pursuits in her second feature. She and screenwriter Katie Silberman utilize the conformity of 1950's aesthetics to relay a story about women ensnared by the chauvinist culture created in a seemingly idyllic neighborhood called Victory. After making a startling discovery outside the town's confines, our protagonist Alice begins slowly uncovering what lies beneath the surface of Victory's backward practices.
If “Booksmart” equated to a freshman breakout, “Don't Worry Darling” is indicative of a sophomore slump. Still, Wilde continues to show glimmers of promise as a filmmaker. She and Cinematographer Matthew Libatique create dynamic visual splendor from Victory's embrace of 1950s culture. The sleek, hot rod automobiles, picturesque houses and extravagant outfits are all captured under the sun-kissed allure of the duo's vibrant lighting choices and precise framing. As the narrative unwinds, Wilde and her creative team mine imaginative avenues for distorting Victory's synchronized conformity and utopian landscape into a nightmarish reality defined by sinister influences.
“Don't Worry Darling” offers a feast for the eyes visually, although the film does little to engage viewers on a more substantive level. Wilde's fixation on the film's visceral presentation eventually becomes determinantal to the material's meaningful undertones. Her presentation of 1950s culture as a means for ruminating on gender inequities and the transactional dynamics some males bind women to is a promising thesis on paper. However, the execution lacks the nuanced follow-through to say anything significant about the subject matter. Wilde also seems ill-equipped in her transition to sci-fi/horror filmmaking as she struggles to create pulsating tension and genuine dread from her vivid imagery.
It's not enough to simply spotlight an idea when superior female-centric genre tales like “Promising Young Woman” and Hulu's “The Handmaid's Tale” reckon against problematic gender dynamics with proper gravitas. I also don't think the film sends a terrific message about marginalization either when the only Black and Asian characters are treated like thankless plot devices.
As a Twilight Zone-esque piece of science fiction, Darling endures similar inconsistencies. Silberman becomes so embedded in metaphorical storytelling devices that she seemingly forgets establishing reasons for viewers to invest in her story's worldview. The barebones characterization morphs the talented cast into bland amalgams of uninteresting stereotypes, while the narrative's tedious repurposing of familiar sci-fi storytelling tools leaves viewers two steps ahead of each predictable twist and turn.
The only actor who truly elevates the material is Pugh - who displays a powerhouse performance as Alice gradually rediscovers her internal strength amidst dire conditions. Chris Pine, Wilde, Nick Kroll, and Harry Styles' laughably erratic performances make up a supporting cast that receives little attention from the underbaked screenplay.
Don't Worry Darling certainly presents the glitz and glamour of a crowd-pleasing spectacle, but the promising pieces do not add up into a satisfying whole. I still remain intrigued to see how Wilde evolves as a filmmaker following her well-meaning yet inconsistent second feature.
Don't Worry Darling is now playing in theaters.