By Bradley Lane
Olivia Wilde’s 2019 film Booksmart was a revelation. It quickly defined itself as one of the quintessential films of Gen Z’s burgeoning film canon. It was shot and edited with technical prowess, but it was the film’s script that separated it as special. It showed a lot of heart and passion that translated into success, a success that Wilde leveraged into funding for her next film, Don’t Worry Darling. Sold as a psychological thriller focused on illuminating the dark secrets hiding in a seemingly idyllic 1950s American community, Wilde’s second feature film is both not very engaging and lacks the heart of her previous work.
Alice (Florence Pugh) lives in the town of Victory with her loving husband, Jack (Harry Styles). Run by and named after the company that employs all the men in the town, Victory is a quiet archetypal American community. Perfectly manicured green lawns give way to gorgeous mid-century architecture, but not all is well in Victory. After bearing witness to a gruesome tragedy, Alice begins to question the picturesque community she belongs to and seeks to uncover what lies beyond the town.
There are elements to like in Wilde’s newest film, most obviously, Florence Pugh’s turn as our heroine Alice. As she appears on the page of the script, Alice is a one-dimensional character defined mostly by her relationships with other characters. However, in the hands of a performer like Pugh, the character is transformed into a compelling and extremely sympathetic protagonist. This combined with a slick sense of style and excellent cinematography makes watching Don’t Worry Darling a hollow but relatively pain free experience despite its shortcomings.
As a piece of genre cinema, the movie falls short of its promise as a thriller, simply because the mystery at the film’s center is not compelling. Very early in the film, most audiences will pick up on the fact that the setting is somehow constructed or falsified and from then on, the questions the film poses becomes less and less interesting. Given the much larger budget compared to her first film, it makes sense that the ambition and scale of Don’t Worry Darling would be grander than Booksmart. However in pursuit of a larger story, lost is the passion and heart of Booksmart, and in its place is a desperate need to seem clever. The script often gestures at large ideas about feminism, political polarization, whiteness and gender dynamics but ultimately fails to say anything of substance about these subjects.
Don’t Worry Darling is by all accounts, a swing for the fences. It takes risks, which I appreciate, it just bites off more than it can chew ideologically and as a result fails to even entertain as a vapid but fun summer blockbuster. Don’t Worry Darling is exclusively showing in theaters. – 2/5 stars