Josh Reviews Don’t Worry Darling
In Don’t Worry Darling, Florence Pugh plays Alice, a young woman living an idyllic life. It seems to be some time in the 1950’s, and she’s happily married to her husband Jack (Harry Styles). They live in a beautiful community called Victory that’s a gorgeous spot somewhere in California, and they have a group of close friends with whom they often spend time together at raucous dinner parties. All seems well… except that Alice slowly discovers that something seems amiss. She has flashes of visions/memories that she doesn’t understand, and there are some strange rules in Victory, and it might not be possible for anyone to leave. Everyone else seems to think that Alice is crazy to question their perfect lives, but Alice can’t resist picking at the edges of their apparently ideal world…
I really enjoyed this film! I frankly liked it a lot more than I’d expected to.
From what I knew about Don’t Worry Darling, I didn’t think the film would really be in my wheelhouse. But there has been so much proverbial ink spilled about this film (the sex scenes, the behind-the-scenes tensions) that I was curious to see what it was all about. From the press I’d seen, I thought this was a period piece relationship drama with a healthy dose of female-centric erotic content. The former is not exactly at the top of my list of the type of movies I tend to love, and while I am in no way opposed to strong sexual content in a movie, it’s also not the type of thing that makes me want to rush out to see a movie. I’d be hard-pressed to identify any movie described as “an erotic so-and-so” (“an erotic thriller” being the most common description I run across) that I really loved. (Recently I watched Deep Water, which I’ve read described as “an erotic psychological thriller”, but the film didn’t work for me.)
But Don’t Worry Darling is great! It’s a very different film than I’d expected. Yes, there is a relationship drama aspect to the film (which works well, because Florence Pugh and Harry Styles are terrific) and yes there is some sexual content. (Though not as much as I’d expected based on all the hullabaloo. There’s an extended sequence early in the film in which Jack goes down on Alice, and Alice spends some long chunks of the film in a fairly revealing negligee. But there’s not too much more than that.) Both those elements of the film were enjoyable. But I was surprised by what a tense mystery/suspense story this actually was! I was very quickly hooked into that aspect of the film. Like Alice, I couldn’t wait to figure out what the heck was going on!!
The film’s mystery is well-structured, as Alice (and the audience) slowly puts together the pieces of the story. I was very satisfied with how well everything fit together in the end. And I was particularly surprised by the “genre” elements that entered the story in the third act! All of this really captured my interest.
Florence Pugh first captured my attention in 2018’s The Outlaw King, and wow, what an explosion of a career she’s had since then! (As an example, I cannot get enough of her as Yelena Bolova in Black Widow and Hawkeye, and I hope we see lots more of her in the MCU in the future.) Ms. Pugh dominates this film. I love that the story is so strongly focused on Alice and her perspective. I don’t think there are any scenes in the film that Alice isn’t in. We’re firmly in her point of view, so when characters leave to do things or have conversations that Alice isn’t privy to, neither are we. This is a strong storytelling choice, and Ms. Pugh shines in this leading role. She has incredible charisma on-screen, combined with a naturalism to her performance that I found very engaging. I couldn’t detect any artifice here. I was completely drawn into her story.
Ms. Pugh is paired with Harry Styles, who might not be the master actor that she is, but I thought he was very solid in the film. Mr. Styles perfectly embodies who Jack should be; the straight-laced husband who loves his wife and loves his work. He and Ms. Pugh had strong chemistry together.
Alice and Jack’s friends and neighbors are brought to life by a wonderful collection of performers: Olivia Wilde (who also directed the film — more on this in a moment), Kate Berlant (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), Sydney Chandler, Gemma Chan (The Eternals), KiKi Layne, Nick Kroll (The League, Big Mouth, Sausage Party), Asif Ali, and Ari’el Stachel (The Band’s Visit) are all great. These actors are each able to create distinct and memorable characters in theirs supporting roles, which is important to fleshing out the world of the film and making it all seem real. Timothy Simons (Ryan from Veep) is also terrific as a creepy doctor in the community.
Then there’s Chris Pine (Star Trek, Wonder Woman, Hell or High Water), who is perfect as Frank, the strange and magnetic leader of the Victory community. Mr. Pine plays Frank as a charismatic cult leader, which is exactly the right tone. He’s compelling and scary at the same time. It’s fun to see The Outlaw King co-stars Mr. Pine and Ms. Hugh reunited on-screen. Their scenes together are blisteringly fun.
The film was written by Katie Silberman (who also wrote Booksmart), from a story by Ms. Silberman and Carey Van Dyke and Shane Van Dyke. I think the script is excellent. It’s wonderful to see a story so focused on a female lead and the other women in her orbit, and as I’d commented above I greatly enjoyed the clockwork-like structure to the film’s mysteries and the way they were carefully unfolded. The film was directed by Olivia Wilde (who also directed Booksmart, which as I’d just noted was written by Katie Silberman, who also wrote this film — the two seem to have a potent collaboration!), and I was very impressed by her work here. The film looks gorgeous. Ms. Wilde is able to capture the stark sun-drenched California beauty that is so important for setting the film’s tone. And I loved the 1950’s retro/futuristic look to the film’s sets and costumes. (That weird structure on top of the mountain at the edge of Victory looked absolutely perfect.)
Much of the press around this film has focused on the sex scenes. Ms. Wilde has given interviews trumpeting her desire to depict female pleasure on screen. I am supportive of that idea. However, as I’d commented above, I think there has been a lot of focus on a relatively minor aspect of this film. (The scene might raise some people’s eyebrows, but I should point out that there’s no nudity in it.) While I appreciate that Ms. Wilde might have broader goals in mind in terms of a world in which women and their desires and perspectives are central (in contrast to what we usually see in movie), for me, the oral sex scene is important for the film because it’s critical to the story that we can see that Jack is a kind and attentive husband. This isn’t some macho jerk. That’s an important piece of character-building. So the sex scene isn’t gratuitous to me. Frankly, the important statements about how women are treated in our society come in the film’s third act as the truth about Victory begins to be revealed. These were my favorite aspects of the film. (And it’s so important that a mystery film be able to stick the landing.) (If I have any complaints, it’s that I wish we got five more minutes at the end, to see more about what Alice did next, and how she rebuilt her life. I have a picture of her scouring the world trying to help other women. I’d have loved to have seen some of that, though I do also understand why Ms. Wilde and Ms. Silberman chose to end the movie at the exact moment at which they did.)
I also want to add that, in an era of many boringly generic movie titles, I think this film’s title is perfect.
I’m glad I gave this film a try! I had a lot of fun watching it, and I recommend it.
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