It’s always unfortunate when a movie’s press cycle usurps the movie itself. In the case of Olivia Wilde’s sophomore film Don’t Worry Darling, news of behind-the-scenes drama, combined with festival antics and general overexposure placed added scrutiny on a movie that would’ve been better served without any of it. Wilde’s movie is fine, but not outstanding. Watching it minus the context of all the Venice hubbub and relationship drama, you’d think it was a good bit of intelligent entertainment. With all of that gossip, it’s easy to wonder what all the fuss is about.
Alice (Florence Pugh) and Jack (Harry Styles) are a young married couple living in an idyllic mid-century desert enclave run by an organization called the Victory Project. Jack, like the other men in their community, has a job at Victory Project HQ, where they make “progressive materials,” whatever that means. Alice and the other wives stay home, keep their houses spotless, and prepare impeccable meals for their husbands. It’s a simple, highly gendered existence, but Alice loves it.
Then, of course, everything changes. For Alice, that catalyst comes in Margaret (KiKi Layne), her former friend who seems to be dealing with mental health issues. Like Margaret, Alice starts experiencing hallucinations. After she follows one of them out into the desert on her own, Alice discovers something else that slowly unravels her whole world. Unfamiliar memories come bubbling up. Friends and neighbors’ stories about their lives start to overlap. The community’s founder Frank (Chris Pine) and his wife Shelley (Gemma Chan) know more than they’re letting on, hiding something sinister behind their carefully crafted exteriors.
As with many stories involving questioned realities and piles of secrets, the truth at the heart of Don’t Worry Darling isn’t as interesting as the leadup to it (not to mention begging many logistical questions that can’t be sufficiently answered). The movie’s central metaphor isn’t exactly subtle either—a gala event where Pine asks the crowd whose world this is, and Styles emphatically responds “ours” tells you about all you need to know.
However, that central idea isn’t without merit, and Don’t Worry Darling has some neat tricks up its sleeve that keep things interesting up until the moment it no longer quite works. The film is buoyed by a fierce performance from Pugh, who credibly embodies both a woman deeply in love with her husband and her life, and someone grasping at straws as that life comes apart at the seams. It’s also lovely to look at, thanks to Matthew Libatique’s glowing cinematography, which complements shot after shot of gorgeous mid-century modern design. Alice’s house may be a prison, but it’s also the stuff estate sale dreams are made of.
Don’t Worry Darling aspires to be as clever as other movies (Get Out and 1975’s The Stepford Wives are clear influences) that it’s not really in the same league with. It’s not great art. It is, however, a solid piece of entertainment that’s still a little more thoughtful than the average blockbuster, and provides plenty of eye candy to keep viewers happy besides. Whether it was worth a never-ending stream of social media commentary is debatable, but it’s worth checking out nevertheless.
“Don’t Worry Darling” is in theaters Friday.