Harry Styles, a pop dreamboat and aspirant actor, spoke up about his new star vehicle during the Venice film festival press conference: It's like, a real, you know, go-to-the-theater film movie. These words went viral for the first, or last, time during Dont Worry Darling's cursed press tour.
Dont Worry Darling, written and directed by Olivia Wilde and also starring Florence Pugh, is a go-to-the-theater film. Its got a little bit of sex, a bit of mystery, and a bit of action. It's not that great of a film, and it's not very well-known these days.
The cyclone of gossip that has preceded its release seems to be part of the experience, or at least consistent with it: a decadent, glossy tableau of turn-of-the-millennium celebrity culture. However, we can leave out all mention of the scandal in the finished product, which is stunning and nicely constructed, if not well thought out.
Alice (Pugh) and Jack (Styles) are a besotted young couple living in a modular, midcentury suburban paradise shaded by tall palm trees. What they do there is a closely guarded secret; the project's leader is a charismatic devil called Frank (Pine), a cultish figure who speaks only in bland, nonspecific aphorisms about their common cause and utopian lifestyle.
Alice navigates this existence in a shady haze, sipping champagne with her sardonic neighbor Bunny (Wilde), and dancing with the other women under the cool gaze of Franks wife, Shelley (Gemma Chan). She notices flaws in the facade of this perfect world, a disturbed wife in the house next door, and a plane falling from the sky.
The Woman King, a wacky, hyper-real, rather sour psychological thriller, is linked to Wilde's previous film, which is likable and conscientiously sweet teen comedy Booksmart. That's no dis, it's a rare pleasure to see a female director working in this populist register, with substantial studio resources behind her. (Gina Prince-Bythewoods, a movie, hopes to establish a trend.)
Wildes willingness to go for the jugular served her well with a ribald comedy that works in a mystery box style. Some are original and striking: Pugh getting pressed back by the plate glass windows of her perfect home, or a Marilyn Monroe suffocating herself in a gigantic cocktail glass. None of them are subtle.
Alice draws closer to the truth about what's happened to Victory's wives. Nothing is as it appears, yet, to an even mildly movie-literate audience, everything is as it appears to be. Even if you can't tell the precise nature of the Shyamalan-esque twist in the narrative, you'll know its contours and where it's going long before it arrives.
Maybe there's a forthrightness to this, or at least a sense of entitlement. After all, if youre looking for what keeps women bound to an unfulfilling fantasy of becalmed domesticity, it's no mystery at all. Perhaps to pretend otherwise for the sake of a satisfying twist would be its own form of gaslighting. But if that's the case, then a high-concept mystery thriller would be the wrong medium for the message.
The film's final act is a mess of illogic, irresolution, and half-formed ideas. The filmmakers close the curtain and point the finger, but they can't seem to manage or bothered to explain themselves or to deal with the consequences. (Dont Worry Darling has all of the signs of being overdeveloped.)
The actor who is left behind by the films' failure is not Pugh, but Styles. He isn't the disaster many gleefully predicted, but he looks quite dashing, and his boyish artlessness works better with the films themes than you might expect; in Victory, the women arent the only ones being manipulated; he deflates terriblely; under Harry Styles of everything, there's nothing left.
Pugh's rooted physicality and her radiant, mischievous, stubborn sense of life are greater than real on screen. She will not be denied, and she propels Dont Worry Darling over the finish line with sheer will.
Pugh's performance is enough to make a film of his own. The cinematography, soundtrack, and production are stunning, and the film is played with care. Musically, its richer and a little more edgier, stifling crooning doo-wop and civilized jazz against John Powell's unsettling, nervy tone opens the door to a darker, more provocative film.
Dont Worry Darling will be released on September 23 in cinemas.