‘Don’t Worry Darling’ meets expectations without challenging the genre

2.5 out of 5 stars

Premiering in the wake of swirling cast controversy and drama, Olivia Wilde’s psychological thriller “Don’t Worry Darling” attracts attention for more than just its premise or plot. The rumors of fighting between Wilde and lead actor Florence Pugh, Shia LaBeouf’s replacement with Harry Styles and the overall awkwardness of the cast in a room together have drawn a larger audience looking to see what all the fuss is about.

“Don’t Worry Darling” itself is an attempt to explore female agency through the lens of an idyllic desert town inspired by the mid-20th century, taking a dive into the male gaze and what happens when a woman tries to challenge the established order. The movie takes on those topics, but it does so by relying on psychological horror tropes that the audience is used to and fails to generate new conversation on larger issues.

Pugh carries the movie, bringing her signature honesty and realism to a tired concept as she plays a woman desperately trying to find out the truth about what is really happening in the town of Victory. Given unoriginal concepts to explore, Pugh beautifully captures the mental turmoil and breakdown over time caused by collective gaslighting from her community. She takes on the conflict of perfect suburban wife, Alice, torn between love for her husband, Jack, and her desperation to find the truth behind things she has seen.

She is supported in her nuanced and detailed attention by the underused Chris Pine, who brings an eerily calm yet maniacal presence to Victory’s leader, Frank, as he tries to silence any challenges to the established order. Unfortunately, these two did not share enough screen time to let their character work tell more of the story, only truly clashing during one fraught dinner conversation and never interacting again.

Styles was overall fine, but bland in his role as Jack, Alice’s young, ambitious husband. His chemistry with Pugh was mostly one-sided, with Pugh doing the heavy lifting. There were moments when he put forth a good effort to demonstrate some deeper emotions, such as loudly crying at a tumultuous plot climax, or his desperation during a bizarre tap dance scene that went on for too long, but the lack of sincerity behind those choices made them fall flat.

The biggest problem with the movie overall is that it used too many thriller clichés to make a broader point, in ways that have become too familiar in recent years. The idea of a utopia with something lurking under the surface is becoming less and less original, and even the vaguely 1950s setting has been used before.

The aesthetic of the town, from the costumes to the layout, felt lazily researched. Costumes ranged from late ’50s to ’60s styles, the hair was all over the place in terms of time period with Alice’s being downright modern and at one point there is a 1940s swing dance party with modern dresses.

It became clear by the end that this was at least somewhat intentional, and I can see why these choices were made, but I would have preferred a more consistent approach to the period. Throwing modernity in with the sort-of-’50s setting made me wonder why more of the women didn’t challenge the status quo.

Kiki Layne’s character, Margaret, is a blatantly obvious steal from movies like Jordan Peele’s “Get Out,” with a Black woman acting strange and being hushed up to maintain the status quo as part of Alice’s awakening to her situation.

Alice’s descent into paranoia felt overdone and unoriginal, with frequent psychotic visions of smiling women under a black and white filter dancing to a monologue by Pine and old music. It is clear that the visions are meant to play with the ideas of order and reality and the illusion that “everything is fine” when everything is not fine, but the trope was far too transparent.

“Don’t Worry Darling” is sincerely entertaining and worth a watch for the progression of the story as a whole, but it is not the feminist challenge that it tries to be. The overall impact of the story is not enough to overcome the drama of whatever was happening behind the cameras.

Photo caption: Photo courtesy of https://www.facebook.com/DontWorryDarling/.