Review: ‘Don’t Worry Darling’ airs smoothly, for better or worse

It is a bit of an exaggeration that so many elements about do not worry honey it feels so good that you don’t want to worry about what’s wrong. Olivia Wilde’s sophomore directorial effort is a bit murky on message, but it’s an entertaining ride bolstered by a riveting performance from Florence Pugh and a strong supporting cast.

There’s perhaps no more obvious choice than a 1950s setting if you’re going to make a movie about housewives realizing things aren’t what they seem. But visually, it’s an absolute delight, with cinematographer Matthew Libatique (Black SwanA the star is born) enjoying the so-called “desert oasis” for everything in it, from aerial car chases to toasted crumbs on the counter.

DWD takes place in Victory, California, a communal town where all the men work at a mysterious company, and all the women fire their husbands every morning in unison. Children are expert mixologists when it comes to combining boater hats. A guy takes off his tie if a cooler guy isn’t wearing it. The wives occupy their time in four settings: the home, the pool, the mall, and the ballet class.

The casting is impeccable. Pugh is a force; his ability to break down on camera is well documented, and here you can see the cracks at the base of his face. As Alice, a housewife whose day is more likely to be ruined by discovering that the tuna salad she planned won’t work more than anything else; Pugh has a remarkable way of offering his co-stars unwavering warmth, like a crisis negotiator who bakes you cookies.

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If you need a guy to kiss you a lot, flirtatiously eat a carrot, dance in a bow tie and suspenders, and make a valiant but ultimately catastrophic attempt at mashed potatoes, you really can’t do better than Harry Styles. He is obediently charming as Jack, the perfect husband until you squint. However, the pop star is unable to go toe-to-toe with Pugh as the drama escalates. Styles taps into frailty as the dust settles and Jack retreats into his weak self, but his performance during actual confrontations isn’t particularly dimensional. And for anyone who questions the accent, yes, Jack is British…at least a little bit.

The supporting cast (including Wilde as Bunny, Alice’s best friend and the most glamorous mom on the block) is great. Chris Pine as Frank, the man behind Victory, is delightfully sinister. As his wife, Gemma Chan rarely gets a chance to speak, but she manages to pack a punch with her steely, serene gaze.

Kate Berlant was born to be on camera with a bevy of failed tradwives. The comedian and actress, currently filling her one-woman show by immersing herself in ego acting, Kate, has a keen understanding of the high-wire act women perform, recalibrating with every blink to avoid rocking the boat. Timothy Simons (veep) gives just the right amount of ick as an ethically dubious doctor in town. Nick Kroll plays the part of a guy you don’t want to be around that often and who isn’t really around that often with poise.

Unfortunately, the performances don’t match a weak script by Carey and Shane Van Dyke that was Blacklisted until Wilde and smart booking screenwriter Katie Silber took over. The wives are baffled when a woman they once called a friend takes issue after a tragedy that might have worked with less harsh exposure. The film seems unsure if she wants to humanize her or treat her like a wraith. Jack literally says, “don’t get hysterical,” as if he’s ticking off a list of Women on the Verge movies. He’s riddled with hints that things are wonky, like air-filled eggshells, but none of it feels in the service of character or plot.

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Eventually, the media circus surrounding the film will die down, giving audiences a chance to enjoy a film that doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but certainly entertains without all the noise. However, it is fair to judge how well a director’s promises for the film are delivered. Wilde made the film’s sex scenes, involving Jack pleasuring Alice, a main talking point of the press coverage, much to Pugh’s disappointment. Wilde is right that a man putting a woman’s desires first is a dynamic rarely seen on screen, but showing something isn’t inherently progressive.

Over the course of the film, we see Jack use oral sex as a weapon; it’s not a way to celebrate her wife, but to appease and distract her to take control of her and stroke her own ego while he does it. It’s baffling how anyone, let alone the filmmaker, could interpret that as a victory for women on screen. In one scene, the wives show disdain during a burlesque dancer’s performance at a company event. Her reactions (and her presence) felt completely unexamined, missing an opportunity to give texture to Victory’s sexual politics.

do not worry honey it comes together in a jolt of a final act, particularly with Styles’ performance veering sharply to the left, but the conclusion doesn’t seem won over, raising questions too late for the film to answer. When the lens finally shifts to modern gender roles, it doesn’t linger long enough to say anything new. Still, it’s a solid dystopian movie that oozes style and engaging performances that are well worth enjoying.

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