Olivia Wilde’s second feature film, Don’t Worry Darling, premiered a couple of weeks ago in theaters. Like many other people, I kept up with the behind-the-scenes drama leading up to the film’s release, which informed me of a few reasons why the film feels so… messy. That’s really the best way I can describe Don’t Worry Darling: a messy film with a messy production.
Don’t Worry Darling
Director: Olivia Wilde
Release Date: September 23, 2022 (Theatrical)
Don’t Worry Darling starts out in a small community in the Californian desert called Victory. From the beginning, the town is very idyllic with lots of young couples and families living together in their own little world free from the confines of modern society. The time period is ambiguous, with lots of costumes and set piecing hinting at a heavy 1950s influence. Alice (Florence Pugh) and Jack (Harry Styles) are one of the “lucky” couples who get to live in this slice of paradise.
While Alice is a stay-at-home housewife, Jack gets to leave town each day to work a vague job at the underground Victory facility. They initially seem happy with this arrangement, but the veneer soon wears off as Alice starts to uncover more about their picture-perfect world. First is Margaret (KiKi Layne), who is perceived as being troubled following the loss of her son and is convinced that Frank (Chris Pine) is punishing her. Next is the mysterious plane crash that leads Alice out into the desert, where she reaches the Victory Headquarters.
Alice’s discovery of the headquarters site unlocks some startling realizations for her, including the belief that something about their world is extremely wrong and information is being withheld from her and the other residents. She becomes paranoid and starts having visions of women dancing, as well as seeing Margaret around in mirrors. Doctor Collins (Timothy Simons) attempts to subdue her with electroshock therapy and medication, but it’s Frank’s egging on that pushes Alice to her breaking point.
In a shocking turn of events, Alice remembers her real life out of Victory. Victory is actually a complete simulation, and her body is laying prone in the real world. Jack discovered the Victory project and signed himself up with Alice remaining unaware. Jack essentially lied to Alice to create a more glamorous life for himself, as he was unemployed and frustrated with her busy work schedule.
Once Alice realizes what the supposed love of her life has done to her, she retaliates and kills him. In order to save herself, she needs to return to the Victory Headquarters, which she narrowly does before Frank’s henchmen capture her. It’s heavily implied that she is successful and that she’s returned to her life in the real world.
I’ll go into why Don’t Worry Darling didn’t work for me but first I wanted to point out that there were some aspects of the film I enjoyed. First is Florence Pugh’s performance. I’ve been a huge fan of her work since her lead role in Midsommar, and she delivered (as always) in Don’t Worry Darling. She portrays anxiety and instability so well, and unlike other cast members, can do a really impressive American accent. The supporting cast also pulled their weight, with Chris Pine, KiKi Layne, Kate Berlant, Nick Kroll, and Gemma Chan all doing a great job.
The set and costume design works well too. While watching Don’t Worry Darling, I could feel the 1950s influence on how everything looked, but still see it with a modern imagining. I’m sure a lot of stuff wasn’t “accurate” to the time period but the film never states to be set in the 50s, allowing Victory to exist in its own place and time. This definitely tied into the themes of control and an idealized way of life, as one of the most recognizable images for women of the 1950s was the stay-at-home wife who supported her husband.
Unfortunately, the negatives of Don’t Worry Darling far outweighed the positives. Harry Styles’s performance as Jack drags down a lot of the film’s most important moments, turning what should be hard-hitting scenes of conflict and revelations into points of awkward comedy. As much as Pugh tries, the chemistry between the two feels uncomfortably forced and one-dimensional.
On top of that, Don’t Worry Darling‘s twists and turns are all either repetitive or corny. Sorry, the final twist where Alice discovers that Victory is a simulation felt like a huge cop-out. Don’t Worry Darling is entirely too concerned with its spotless image to hammer out a worthwhile plot, and its feminist commentary has both been done before and better. Perhaps a stronger story with fewer plot holes could have turned Don’t Worry Darling into 2022’s feminist standout, but its circular plot left the final reveal feeling unsatisfactory.
I mean, the plane that led to Alice’s discovery of Victory Headquarters was half-baked and never elaborated on despite a setup by Margaret’s toy. If it’s a simulation run by Frank and his team, why would there be a stray plane? And what exactly was the point of the dancing imagery? Are they glitches in the system, or red herrings?
Don’t Worry Darling is a visually striking film but unfortunately, its plot and themes feel undercooked and it leaves viewers with more questions than answers. The behind-the-scenes drama ended up being way more entertaining to me than anything I saw in the film, which is hardly a good thing. I wished I liked this film more, as I enjoyed Wilde’s debut Booksmart a lot, but I think she bit off more than she could chew with such a big venture.