Olivia Wilde’s follow up to Booksmart should have been a highlight of 2022. Yet, when Don’t Worry Darling took its bow at Venice, the whole project had fallen into farce.
There was tabloid scandal surrounding Wilde’s relationship with star Harry Styles; a rumoured rift with lead Florence Pugh; and a video that appeared to show Styles spitting on co-star Chris Pine (eventually debunked by both parties). It’s rare that cast and crew actively damage a film by promoting it, but amid all the headlines you’d be forgiven for forgetting that there was still a movie to see.
Pugh stars as Alice, the blissfully happy young newlywed living in a 50s style development where all residents work for the Victory Project. The organisation, its work, and its enigmatic leader (Chris Pine) are all shrouded in mystery to the wives of the employees, but disturbing visions begin to give Alice the notion that all is not as it seems. She fights for the truth as her husband Jack (Styles) and others try to convince her to maintain the status quo.
Wilde continues to establish herself as an interesting filmmaker, focusing on the imbalanced gender dynamics woven into the fabric of American life. Sadly, it doesn’t skewer its issues quite as deftly as Booksmart.
The premise has echoes of The Stepford Wives, Get Out, and The Truman Show, but feels like a retread of those films rather than adding to the conversation. The feminist message is too bluntly delivered, particularly in the third act twist that can be seen coming a mile off. Visually, surreal dream sequences only seem to highlight that there isn’t a lot beneath the surface.
On the plus side, the cast is terrific. Pugh is magnificent, and the whole endeavour would be poorer without her slow burn paranoia boiling into unbridled rage. Pine’s old school Hollywood presence works brilliantly as the corporate messiah, and he’s never better than when he’s duelling with Pugh.
Styles isn’t quite as impactful, but makes it work for the most part. Small but punchy performances from Gemma Chan, Nick Kroll, and Wilde herself make the town’s too-good-to-be-true veneer shine brightly. The gossip surrounding Don’t Worry Darling will probably live longer than the movie, but that isn’t to say Wilde’s difficult second film is a disaster.
Muddled in places, it nonetheless shows ambition and furthers Pugh’s reputation as one of the most watchable stars of the moment.