The press tour for “Don’t Worry Darling” had it all.
Tensions flared between director Olivia Wilde and lead actress Florence Pugh, who purposefully upstaged her boss with an extravagant set of appearances at the Venice Film Festival. A spat between Wilde and Shia LaBeouf led to a video surfacing that appeared to dispute Wilde's claims that LaBeouf quit the production, as Wilde can be seen telling LaBeouf she’d talk to Pugh about her qualms with the embattled actor.
Oh, and Harry Styles spit on Chris Pine? Well, he almost certainly didn’t, as Pine's camp firmly denied it. (But did he?)
The movie ended up becoming a publicity machine, with one memorable story after another flying forth from drama among its eclectic cast.
The film itself, on the other hand, was almost unbearably forgettable.
“Don’t Worry Darling” tells the story of Jack (Styles) and Alice Chambers (Pugh), a couple living in the company town of Victory, California. During the day, Jack and his male friends all work for Victory — a company whose aims are unknown even to its employees — while their wives stay home to engage in domestic life.
Right out of the gate, the supposed psychological thriller robs itself of suspense by doing nothing to hide the sinister nature of Victory or its almost inhuman founder, Frank (Pine). The music underscoring his very first speech, which is bursting at the seams with cultist rhetoric, throws all subtlety to the wind. They’re evil. Obviously.
The flaccid screenwriting leaves its mark on the whole movie, as the motivations of its woefully underdeveloped characters clearly remained on the cutting room floor. The only characters with enough lines to make heads or tails of them are the Chambers duo, Frank and Bunny, Alice’s friend and next-door neighbor played by… oh, would you look at that! Olivia Wilde.
The ending is truly a shocker, though. It took the friend I sat next to all of 25 minutes out of just over two hours — which the movie makes feel like 300 because of the amount of time it dedicates to asinine nostalgia-baiting — to guess that the characters were in a simulation made by the Victory “employees” the whole time.
It’s all just so lazy and flat, like leaving the comma out of a title because you think it looks better that way.
The directing from Wilde is mediocre at best, and flat-out negligent at worst.
Static close-ups for dialogue (or worse, paltry monologues) make up the overwhelming majority of the shots in this uninspired bore. Erratic jump cuts during tense scenes, including a climactic breakdown from Pugh which Wilde needlessly contrasts with a party, leave audiences disoriented and annoyed. The only interesting shots come when Wilde decides to play with mirrors, but even that is a tired trope she borrowed from hundreds of other better offerings.
The production design provides good visual relief from the camera antics, as the set put together for Victory is gorgeous.
But the movie’s soundtrack, which completely supplants what little original score it was meant to complement, is a mishmash of random songs that were clearly included only because people may have heard them before and not to advance or even contribute to the plot. The first twenty minutes are filled, without any breaks, with music that, thanks to the horrendous audio mixing that plagues the whole movie, completely drowns out any expositional dialogue.
The film is also littered with continuity errors. My favorite one of these comes in the lovely party scene ending the second act, where big band music — Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing,” no less, because why try to do something new? — plays despite none of the musicians onstage actually playing their instruments.
And before anyone tries to explain away these mistakes by saying they were intentionally included to show the faltering nature of the computer-simulated world they’re all in, please stop. Take a moment. Think about that argument. And realize how much of a cop-out it is.
“Don’t Worry Darling” also fails miserably to deliver upon Wilde’s promises of it being a feminist epic.
Frank and Jack are unidimensional straw men whose conspiratorial motivations are portrayed almost sympathetically by the movie’s end. Even Wilde’s own character is a willful contributor to the misogynistic construct, citing personal reasons that the audience is unaware of because, like most other important character details that would explain a character’s actions, they’re never shown.
This lack of motivation ensures the film’s hyper-sexualized female characters are still objectified, despite Wilde’s claims they aren’t. This is exacerbated by the gratuitous inclusion of cartoonish sex scenes, which were nowhere near the 'revolutionary' status Wilde originally promised.
“Don’t Worry Darling” was lazy, unoriginal and downright frustrating. And to think the trailer and pre-premiere drama made me expect anything more. What a shame.
Who could possibly be to blame for all this? Who am I to direct my boundless anger toward?
Oh, right: Olivia Wilde. Because, as she said in a 2019 interview on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert":
“You know, if a movie’s bad, it is the director’s fault.”
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