There didn’t seem to be any reason to worry, honey, when it was announced that actress-director Olivia Wilde would be following her bubbly debut film “Booksmart” with the 1950s psychological thriller “Don’t Worry Darling,” starring Florence Pugh. . Having established herself as a bold and unapologetically feminist new filmmaker to watch, Wilde and “Booksmart” collaborator Katie Silberman wrote the screenplay for “Don’t Worry Darling” based on a screenplay by Carey and Shane Van Dyke, which appeared in Black 2019. List of Hollywood’s Best Unproduced Screenplays.
But then a big pop star (Harry Styles) replaced a troubled actor (Shia LaBoeuf) on the set, and Wilde’s fiancé (“Ted Lasso” star Jason Sudeikis) on his arm, and the movie fell apart. became a subject of gossipy speculation, which reached its climax. in a gloriously glamorous red carpet cacophony of deliciously frivolous celebrity rampage at the film’s premiere at the Venice Film Festival earlier this month.
“Don’t Worry Darling” is a giddily gorgeous and heady project that melds “The Stepford Wives,” “Gaslight” and “The Truman Show” into an aesthetically retro riff on modern social commentary. The swirling ideas in “Don’t Worry Darling” are really great, but they’re also the downfall of the movie. Wilde wields a Betty Friedan-inspired sword of feminist criticism, but loses her tenuous grasp of this unwieldy tool and, instead of dealing a sharp blow to nostalgic misogyny, she cuts the entire project to shreds before our eyes, leaving us with a mess of pieces, it’s not clear how to fit them all together.
Rising powerhouse star Pugh gives a typically riveting performance as Alice, the horny young wife of Jack (Styles), who wants nothing more than to vacuum their impressive mid-century modern home every day, and say hello to her husband at the door with a cocktail, a hot meal and a willing body every night. The couple lives in a perfect cul-de-sac, where lush green lawns abut harsh desert (the movie was shot in the architectural paradise of Palm Springs, California), and wives say goodbye to their husbands by driving to work in candy. – colored cars in a synchronized choreography every morning.
Choreography is a theme in “Don’t Worry Darling,” from the wives’ ballet lessons to the tap dance routine Jack shows off during a wild big band party after receiving a promotion from his boss, Frank ( Chris Pine), the mysterious figure. who runs “The Victory Project,” where all the husbands work. They are designing something called “progressive materials,” which the men have sworn to secrecy. Maybe it’s the guns, the wives wonder, blissfully unaware.
The dance is also part of the haunting visions that Alice begins to experience after her neighbor Margaret (Kiki Layne) laughs out loud before her very eyes. Images of women performing 1930s Busby Berkeley-style dance numbers, their legs spinning hypnotically, tear a hole in the fabric of Alice’s sun-dappled existence.
“Don’t Worry Darling” seems to exaggerately waggle its eyebrows at the viewer in anticipation of revealing that things are not what they seem in The Victory Project. It’s so over the top that one begins to feel like the movie had better deliver something really crazy, or else.
It does, but revealing the secrets that lurk beneath this dazzling surface also reveals the cracks in Wilde’s own approach to the subject. It becomes clear that in searching for something controversial and relevant, Wilde and Silberman simply haven’t gone deep enough or far enough. Characterizations and stylistic choices become inconsistent in light of the revelation, and as you analyze the story and try to piece it together, it’s obvious that in crafting this “feminist” parable, Wilde has tried to do it all, and in doing so. , he has deciphered his own argument.
Pugh is an undeniable talent, and miraculously, this film cements his movie star status. She runs around Styles, who isn’t equipped as an actor to match his charisma on screen. When Pugh confronts Pine, energy pours off the screen. Unfortunately, for her most emotional moments, she is saddled with Styles, who is not up to the task and is miscast in the role.
The craft is also undeniable, the costumes, hair, makeup, and production design all offer lush visual appeal (even if it’s a mix of eras, which ends up being the point). It’s all captured by cinematographer Matthew Libatique’s heady, swirling, light-saturated lenses and soundtracked by a breathy, rhythmic score by John Powell that urges us on, creating a rather charged and hypnotic cinematic effect.
While what lies beneath the beautiful appearance of The Victory Project is dark, twisted and sinister, beneath the shiny and stylized surface of “Don’t Worry Darling” there is only a jumble of provocative ideas and, ultimately, inconsistent. Synapses fire, they just can’t connect.
‘DO NOT WORRY HONEY’
★★ (of 4)
MPAA Rating: R (for sexuality, violent content and language)
Execution time: 2:02
How to watch: in theaters friday