Don't Worry Darling (United States, 2022)

September 22, 2022
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Don't Worry Darling Poster

I have done my best to avoid spoilers and, although I’d love to get into specifics about what’s wrong with the movie, such an approach would require revealing plot twists. So, although I won’t go that far, some of the “comparison” movies I mention offer glimpses into the inner workings of this film’s plot, so beware that there may be a little spoiling for anyone familiar with those other titles, none of which are obscure.

Sometimes when a movie is as big a misfire as Don’t Worry Darling, it’s fair to wonder whether the rumors of a “scandal” have been concocted to raise the film’s profile without relying on anything that happens between the opening and closing credits. Although there are a number of problems with the production, the most glaring is the screenplay. The flaws of the final act are so flagrant that nothing short of a rewrite would have solved them. The “surprising” twist (which isn’t really surprising considering how commonplace it has become in sci-fi stories) requires a degree of finesse and attention to detail that is entirely absent. Although the first 75 minutes of Don’t Worry Darling are passably entertaining, the final half-hour is so badly composed – an overcooked casserole of clichés, contrivances, plot holes, and idiocy – that it destroys the meager goodwill generated by the earlier parts of the film. 

The concept of world-building (or universe-building) is central to almost every science fiction/fantasy story. It requires that the author (or, in the case of a movie, the filmmakers) carefully consider every aspect of the milieu in which the action takes place, paying careful attention to consequences. This basic element is apparently foreign to director Olivia Wilde and screenwriters Katie Silberman, Carey Van Dyke, and Shane Van Dyke, because there’s little evidence of it in the movie. On the surface, Don’t Worry Darling might seem to borrow haphazardly from the likes of The Matrix and WandaVision, but it does so without thinking through the implications. The result falls somewhere between a bad episode of “The Twilight Zone” and an unintentional parody. The ending in particular falls victim to this incomplete thinking in that it introduces one preposterous act and, by forgetting to resolve a key element, unintentionally falls into a black hole. This feels a lot like what results when a studio takes a movie away from a director and creates a final cut-by-committee but, according to everything I have read, that’s not the case. Don’t Worry Darling seemingly represents Wilde’s vision and that’s troubling.

Don’t Worry Darling opens in a community that appears to have been hermetically sealed in the 1950s. Called “Victory,” it’s not unlike those faux nuclear-test towns built in the desert by the U.S. government, except this one has real people instead of mannequins and isn’t subject to toxic radiation levels. The Chambers, Alice (Florence Pugh) and Jack (Harry Styles), are one of several couples living in the suburban paradise neighborhood where all the men leave at the same time every morning to head for their jobs at a top-secret location while the women stay behind to do their housewife duties. Presiding over everything is the charismatic Frank (Chris Pine), whose Svengali-like hold extends over everyone from his submissive wife, Shelley (Gemma Chan), to Alice and Jack. But one of the wives, Margaret (KiKi Layne) by name, is no longer buying what Frank is selling, and before the master gaslighter attends to the situation, Margaret successfully plants the seed of doubt in Alice. She then begins to doubt the perfection of her world despite repeated assurances from her best friend Bunny (Wilde) that all is well.

The Stepford Wives vibe is intentional. As are allusions to about a dozen other classic and not-so-classic thrillers and science fiction movies. One of the early problems with Don’t Worry Darling is that we’ve seen enough variations of this story that we know where it’s going. The twist is easily guessed – there are enough clues that only someone paying half-attention would miss them – but what should provide the story with an opportunity to step up instead becomes its downfall. The movie seeks to be a refrigerator movie, where questions of logic don’t become evident until long after the film is done. Unfortunately for Don’t Worry Darling, those questions are so big that they won’t wait for later and hamper the viewer’s enjoyment in the moment.

When a script goes so wrong so fast, it can be difficult to assess the director’s culpability. The best thing I can say about Wilde’s work is that she starts the movie off with a lot of energy, dropping the viewer into the midst of the community without any background or setup, and does a good job focusing on the Twilight Zone aspects of life there. But she doesn’t get the most out of her actors and proves unable to rescue the final act from the dumpster fire that develops. I enjoyed her previous feature, Booksmart, but that occupied a different genre. Maybe that’s where her talent lies.

Florence Pugh is fine, although she has done superior work. Her tendency toward histrionics feels forced. She was much better in Midsommar, where she played a not entirely dissimilar role. Based on the evidence at hand, it’s tough to say whether Harry Styles can act since Don’t Worry Darling is more concerned about how he looks than the quality of his performance. He has no chemistry with Pugh, which hurts the film since their undying love lies at the emotional core. They say “I love you” a lot but I never really believed the words. Their sex scenes are PG-13 even though the movie is rated R.

I rarely lose patience with a movie the way I did with Don’t Worry Darling. Few things aggravate me more than lazy writing and, as this movie careens toward its conclusion, that’s the most evident hallmark. Wilde’s sophomore effort becomes the first high-profile dud of the 2022 autumn season.

Don't Worry Darling (United States, 2022)

Director: Olivia Wilde
Cast: Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Olivia Wilde, Chris Pine, Gemma Chan, Timothy Simons, Kiki Layne
Home Release Date: 2022-11-28
Screenplay: Katie Silberman, Carey Van Dyke, Shane Van Dyke
Cinematography: Matthew Libatique
Music: John Powell
U.S. Distributor: Warner Brothers
Run Time: 2:02
U.S. Home Release Date: 2022-11-28
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Content)
Genre: Science Fiction/Thriller
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1