“Don’t Worry Darling” impresses and disappoints

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons | Actress Florence Pugh graces the big screen as "Don't Worry Darling's" lead protagonist: a young woman trapped in a seemingly perfect utopia.

Emily Fritz | Staff Writer

Oct. 6, 2022

A new psychological thriller, “Don’t Worry Darling,” premiered Sept. 23 starring Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Olivia Wilde and Chris Pine.

You may have seen some of the trailers marketing a young couple (Pugh and Styles) living a utopian 1950s lifestyle when Pugh’s character begins to experience cracks and holes in her too-good-to-be-true community.

If you haven’t seen the official promotional material for this movie, odds are the title is familiar for an entirely different reason: cast drama, as revealed by Vox.

From a love triangle between Styles, Wilde and Jason Sudeikis (Wilde’s former spouse), to a silent social media feud between Pugh and Wilde, to a more aggressive feud between Styles and Pine, “Don’t Worry Darling” has been frequenting tabloid news.

Perhaps most importantly, but still largely unspoken, is the erasure of the film’s already small cast of Black and brown characters.

Kiki Layne & Ari’el Stachel, who reportedly shot a lot of content for “Don’t Worry Darling,” were pushed to the background as “glorified extras” according to Stachel on TikTok. Layne took to Instagram and told fans “They [the production team] cut us from most of the movie.”

Temporarily putting the drama aside, the film was certainly a worthy in-theater experience, but afterward left viewers longing for more.

The film establishes an idealized relationship between Jack (Styles) and Alice Chambers (Pugh). They have the perfect life within the 1950s corporate society that they live in and even challenge some of the typical norms of the era.

The marital relationship is important because it promotes the “perfect world” that later starts to fold for the sake of plot, but more importantly, it gives Alice and the viewer something to miss and something to lose.

Alice slowly starts to slip into odd moments of psychosis and doubt about her life within “The Victory Project” or her community. As shown in the trailer, walls start to close in, mirrored reflections produce erroneous images and she starts to hallucinate things that aren’t real.

These anomalies prove to the viewer that Alice isn’t crazy, but of course to those around her, she’s going off the deep end and riding the train to Crazy Town.

While all of these cracks in Alice’s reality prove to be fascinating and engaging, most of them are pushed to the wayside as red herrings. The majority of the weird and unexplained that tip her off to something not quite right, remain just that: weird and unexplained.

As a viewer, this material is confusing and craves resolution. The resolution that’s given in the movie is unsatisfactory and lacking. Had there been less build-up and more purposeful rising action, the ending would’ve seemed less rushed and could have left room for an equally psychotic sequel.

The more-minute details and cult-like language are important but less highlighted, which encourages audiences to return and re-watch the film. Given the retrospective plot holes, some viewers may not be drawn back to the film, while others will want to re-watch with their new insight.

The trope of perfect society somehow gone wrong can feel stale and overused. However, given that “Don’t Worry Darling” is presented as a period piece, the trope takes on new and exciting layers.

Additionally, the isolation of The Victory Project gives the constructed utopia a unique dystopian feeling, which is intentionally contradictory and manifests an uneasiness for the audience early on.

This movie recycled an old concept and repackaged it well. In the present-day era of cinema where originality is difficult to come by, the film fit well but also gave a nice freshness to older ideas.

Within the context of the 1950s setting were some mixed messages around the feminist lens that Wilde (who also served as director) hoped to communicate.

On one hand, the Chambers’ marriage was sexually charged and progressive for the decade. On the other hand, the cult of domesticity was alive and well, with the routine homemaking of cooking dinner, cleaning daily, hours of laundry, endless shopping and childrearing.

The overarching plot dealt with women’s freedom, but wasn’t revealed until much later in the movie and exposed itself in an unclear resolution that left viewers without closure. In some ways this was frustrating, but also proved to be thought-provoking by giving the movie relevance even after the credits had rolled.

The role of woman as victim doesn’t automatically make a feminist movie, but this film successfully unlocked a feminine nightmare with the near-end twist.

Overall, the acting was exemplary. The cast was effective and did their characters justice. The problem lay mostly in the build-up (and stalling) of the plot that didn’t address the unusual phenomena that tipped off the main character.

Where some plot devices, like the historical backdrop and cult language, were used very well, others still felt random or misleading.

The twist for the film felt like it came out of left field until after the credits, when the “big picture” is clear and visible through hindsight. However, even when the film is viewed through hindsight and the cues become more obvious, the ideas and logic behind the twist are still wildly disturbing.

If anything, the revealed concepts toward the end of the film can be applied to an extreme community in our society and reinforces a genuine fear for some. Viewers are left with a feeling of “could that ever happen?” and if so, “do I know anyone who would?”

While this film is far from horror or the stereotypical scary movie territory that most psychological thrillers occupy, “Don’t Worry Darling” was still an engaging viewing experience that kept viewers in the same “what is going on” mindset that Alice Chambers endured for just over two hours.

This film felt initially like a nine out of 10 in-theaters. Post-credits, it begins to lose some of its charm and rests at about a six on the same scale. However, this movie is so frustrating and thought provoking, that it will stay with you for days afterwards. The final rating for this movie, as determined by its concepts, contradictions and theatrical presentation, is a 7 1/2 out of 10.

“Don’t Worry Darling” has been received by audiences as a masterpiece or a flop, but never described as mediocre. Films are flawed and cinema can be particularly frustrating in ways that other mediums usually aren’t.

The film is simultaneously lovable and detestable, but that is the essence of its charm. It’s a train wreck that you can’t stop watching and that you can’t stop pondering, but nonetheless it craves better than it was able to achieve.