Wasted potential takes center stage in ‘Don’t Worry Darling’

Zoe Leone, Contributing Writer

Illustration by (Amanda Riha)

Olivia Wilde’s sophomore film as a director, “Don’t Worry Darling,” was released in theaters on Sept. 23, but has been floating through the media since its announcement in 2019. Described as a psychological thriller with a feminist narrative, it’s easy to let the work itself be overshadowed by the ridiculously entertaining drama that has surrounded it.

The controversies started with cast replacements, and went on to include in-cast dating, feud rumors and leaked text messages, only to round out with speculation that Harry Styles had spit on Chris Pine at the Venice Film Festival. Spoiler alert: he did not. However, amid the ridiculous gossip and delightful drama, “Don’t Worry Darling” has legs, even if they’re shaky ones.

The film follows Alice and Jack Chambers, played by Florence Pugh and Styles, respectively, who appear to be the ideal 1950s couple. They live in an experimental living community run by Frank, played by Pine, the seemingly omniscient leader of the Victory Project, the company that all of the husbands work for. Everything there is simply perfect.

That is until one of the housewives in the neighborhood starts straying from the spoon-fed perfection of her husband and Frank’s guidance. She tries desperately to warn Alice that the Victory Project is much more than just “developing progressive materials,” but she is quickly silenced by the community’s leaders, as they push the narrative that she’s suffering from a manic episode. Still, the seed was planted and Alice’s perfect life began to fracture.

The undeniable tour de force of the film is Pugh, who shines in her character as a woman being gaslit through a breakdown. It’s reminiscent of her character in “Midsommar,” as a young woman in a relationship spiraling downward, surrounded by a community that is not as it seems. The similarities only go to show how well Pugh has perfected the art of losing her mind on screen. Her stellar performance makes it almost distressing how bad Styles is.

His chemistry with Pugh is hard to buy and his overacting is difficult to watch. When a fight scene between the couple shows Pugh overshadowing a monologue from Styles with a single look, it begs the question of whether the film could’ve been stronger with a different male lead.

Wilde and Pine both deliver particularly strong performances as well. Wilde plays Bunny, Alice’s best friend who is a meticulously perfect housewife. While she seemed in control of every situation with her fingers wrapped around a martini glass, there is a chaotic look in her eyes that unfolds beautifully throughout the film.

Similarly, Pine pulls off the chilling role of the megalomaniac in charge. He’s calculated and cold but taunts the unraveling Alice with a perfect smirk that conveys his spot as the alpha male of the Victory Project.

“Don’t Worry Darling” as a whole, however, is most notable for its wasted potential. The concept of the film is fascinating, but the narrative simply stretches on too long before things start to get on-the-edge-of-your-seat interesting. It has an incredibly slow build that goes on far longer than necessary, which just makes it all the more disappointing when the climax does hit.

When I watched it in theaters, the audience audibly gasped as all secrets were revealed, but just as things start to get truly fascinating, the film fades to black as the title screen appears. It’s the kind of ending that leaves audiences sitting in their seats through the credits, hoping that there is just simply something else.

While the film was pushed by Wilde as a strong female-pleasure-driven story, it lands just off the mark. The themes of feminism and female autonomy are certainly present and easily understood, but they simply just aren’t as fleshed out as they could be for maximum impact. The two sex scenes themselves seem out of place, with both occurring within the first-hour of the movie, and they seem to serve no purpose other than to show Styles going down on someone.

“Don’t Worry Darling” does feminism better than most self-proclaimed movies have recently, but the subtlety is just another disservice to the narrative.

The film isn’t the extravagant psychological thriller it was advertised to be, but it’s also not as horribly devoid of value and entertainment as critics across the media have made it out to be. The film is visually stunning in every way and the revelation of the truth of the Victory Project is a genuinely shocking twist. For fans of a psychological-feminist narrative, the star-studded cast or just simply the drama, it’s worth a casual watch.