Alice Chambers (Florence Pugh) is happily married to Jack Chambers (Harry Styles). Every day, she wakes up, sends Jack to work at the enigmatic Victory Project, cleans house, cooks Jack dinner, welcomes him home with a glass of liquor and a loving embrace, goes to bed, often after making passionate love, wakes up the next morning and repeats the day.
It’s unclear what Jack does for a living, but that doesn’t matter to Alice. She’s happy. Or, at least, she thinks she is. But this 1950s paradise isn’t what it seems, and when Alice starts to question her place, this world comes crumbling down around her.
The conceit of Don’t Worry Darling has been done many times before — so often, in fact, that to reference those times with other films gives away the store — and most savvy audiences will figure it out about fifteen minutes in. That’s not to say that Don’t Worry Darling isn’t successful at what it sets out to do – it’s just that it’s not reinventing the wheel.
What Don’t Worry Darling is good at is providing a new context for this kind of story, a modern sensibility that allows director Olivia Wilde to get at the meat of what she’s trying to say. It’s slick, Hollywood entertainment, and Wilde has some skill in ratcheting up the tension when she needs to.
Don’t Worry Darling also benefits from a remarkable performance from Florence Pugh, who if she wasn’t a star before is most certainly now. Pugh carries the movie, even through some rough spots in the tone and especially the plot, where a few key elements feel like they weren’t well thought out. Those plot holes stand out, but they would be even more egregious if Pugh wasn’t there to smooth over the edges.
Once the underpinnings of the Victory Project reveal themselves, it’s Pugh that must do the heavy lifting to make all of this believable, but her charisma and her skills as an actor make it seem easy. We root for Alice, and we want her to discover what is happening.
The supporting cast, to varying degrees, help carry the weight. Harry Styles is probably a better musician than an actor, but he’s able to hold his own with Pugh and the rest of the cast. Chris Pine, as the mysterious Frank, head of the Victory Project, fares better; Pine is a strong adversary for Alice and his fake platitudes hide a more sinister, calculating villain.
Again, most audiences will see Pine’s character for what he is early on. In fact, the pacing of the film, as Alice discovers more about the Victory Project, begins to drag, and audiences may find themselves ahead of the characters quickly, and may spend much of the time waiting for the characters to catch up to them.
Don’t Worry Darling is gorgeously shot by Matthew Libatique – the sun-drenched lawns, the beautiful mountains, help hide the corruption underneath and Libatique’s work here is terrific.
The script, however, is full of incongruities and plot strands that do not make much sense in retrospect, and Don’t Worry Darling takes far too long to get to its point, and when the reveal happens, it’s not nearly as earth-shattering as the filmmakers hope it is, at least to the audience.
With all the controversy surrounding the film’s making and Olivia Wilde’s decision making on release, this may have given the film undue attention that it perhaps did not warrant. Wilde is no doubt a skilled director – she knows how to motivate great performances out of her actors, and if Booksmart, her previous film, is any indication, she knows a good script when she comes across one.
That film was smart, funny, and full of terrific performances. Don’t Worry Darling is anchored by Pugh, but even Pugh can’t always get over the lumpiness of parts of the script.
There’s an undeniable gloss and sheen to Don’t Worry Darling and it’s not the disaster that many reviews are calling it. It’s neither great or bad – Don’t Worry Darling is one of those films that winds up on repeat on cable if it were made in an earlier era, and it’s a mostly enjoyable way to pass the time.
Perhaps it’s best not to judge Don’t Worry Darling on anything outside of the movie, but as thrillers go, Don’t Worry Darling is middle-of-the-road.
DON’T WORRY DARLING REVIEW SCORE: 6.5 OUT OF 10
Warner Bros. Pictures will release the film in theaters on September 23. The movie is rated R for sexuality, violent content and language.
Alan Cerny has been writing about film for more than 20 years, for such sites as Ain’t It Cool News, CHUD, Birth Movies Death, and ComingSoon. He is a member of the Houston Film Critics Society since 2011. STAR WARS biased. Steven Spielberg once called Alan a “very good writer” and Alan has the signed letter to prove it, so it must be true.