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Don't Worry Darling review
Image: WB

Film

Don’t Worry Darling’s Skilled Direction Can’t Save its Soulless Script

Don’t Worry Darling Review

If you’re looking for a clever, insightful, modern twist on The Stepford Wives (1975), you would be much better served by WandaVision (2021) or Get Out (2017) than Olivia Wilde’s beacon of mediocrity, Don’t Worry Darling. Don’t Worry Darling is equal parts stale, unimaginative, and soulless, and it is hard to imagine a context in which watching it is a rewarding way to spend two hours. Wilde is clearly a highly skilled (if somewhat problematic) director working with a phenomenal cast, but no amount of strong direction and acting can make up for the film’s unoriginal premise and dull script.

The premise is exactly the same as the many Stepford Wives clones that have come before it. A woman lives in an idyllic town where all of the wives are perfect, smiling homemakers who embody the conservative fantasy of Betty Crocker and June Cleaver. However, it is quickly implied that there is some sort of evil conspiracy hiding beneath the town’s wholesome exterior, and there are dark shadows lingering behind the women’s smiling faces. Suspecting that some sort of supernatural or science fiction-esque evil plot is controlling the women of her community, Alice (Florence Pugh) investigates the mysterious underbelly of the town.

Not only does Don’t Worry Darling fail to do anything new with a premise that has been done to death, it also fails to provide much of anything resembling either commentary or entertainment. The plot is predictable, the characters are flat, the dialogue is awkward and unrealistic, the twists are unearned and underwhelming, the scenes are often repetitive, and any commentary that the film does attempt to make is a shallow reflection of something that other films have said better. It almost feels like someone took Far From Heaven (2002) and The Hours (2002), flattened out all of the depth and nuance of their commentary, put it through a Stepford Wives filter, replaced all of the characters with uninteresting archetypes, and called it a day.

Alice looking scared in Don't Worry Darling
Image: WB

What makes the film’s utter lack of substance particularly disappointing is that it is attached to a director who is clearly too good for this script. The set and costume design coupled with Matthew Libatique’s cinematography is stunning, if not a bit derivative – there is not much in the film visually that hasn’t been done before, but it is done very well. The performances – with the notable exception of Harry Styles – are phenomenal, and it is clear that Wilde knows what she’s doing artistically (although, again, apparently not professionally). Unfortunately, however, no amount of well-framed shots, strong performance work, clever blocking and great design can make up for how utterly uninteresting and poorly-developed the script is.

On the note of performance, the one thing that makes this film’s existence somewhat justified is that it may be the only chance we get to see Olivia Wilde and Florence Pugh act together. Despite reported off-screen conflicts, the two have phenomenal chemistry, and the few scenes where their characters interact are the absolute highlights of the film. Alice and Wilde’s character Bunny share the film’s most (and arguably only) interesting scenes together, and it is a joy to watch the two interact.

There is a sincerity and an intimacy to Wilde and Pugh’s scenes that is lacking from the rest of the film. It’s a shame that scenes between this two only make up a tiny portion of the film, because they are the few moments when it is worth watching. It is a credit to both actress’ strength that they can convey such a strong connection when working against such an awkward script, and more time spent just watching Alice and Bunny interact might have made this a worthwhile film.

Bunny and Alice talk in Don't Worry Darling
Image: WB

It is also always a pleasure to see Nick Kroll, who is effortlessly funny and manages to bring joy to any scene simply by being in it. KiKi Layne also gives a notably gripping performance as Margaret, and Gemma Chan and Chris Pine are fun as the creepy couple who leads the town. Kate Berlant is also delightful as cheerful neighbor Peg. None of these characters are written well or developed at all, but luckily the performers are strong enough to squeeze some life out of them regardless. The acting is not quite strong enough to make up for the film’s pointlessness, but it will at least help audiences get through the film without being too bored. Don’t Worry Darling may even manage to squeeze a small laugh or two out of some viewers, although some of these laughs may be directed more at the film than with it.

Styles, unfortunately, flounders when surrounded by so much talent. It is hard watching Pugh give so much energy when coupled with a scene partner who simply can’t match her. Styles is not particularly bad, but he is simply surrounded by a cast of powerhouses who outdo him in every moment; he is clearly a novice working with experts. Considering how amazing Pugh’s scenes with Wilde are, one can’t help but wonder how much better the film would have been if a more seasoned actor had played Alice’s husband. As it stands, Pugh is limited by a scene partner who can’t keep up.

One small criticism of Pugh’s performance is that she relies a bit too much on certain repeated physical tricks to convey emotions. Pugh aggressively points her finger a lot to convey anger, and she sometimes looks a bit like the Woman Yelling at a Cat meme. A small flaw in an otherwise phenomenal and nuanced performance, but definitely one worth pointing out because it gets a bit distracting during some more intense scenes.

Ultimately, there is nothing that Don’t Worry Darling can give you that another film doesn’t already do better. If you like Wilde’s directing style, watch Booksmart. If you like Matthew Libatique’s cinematography, watch Requiem for a Dream or his very similar Black Swan. If you like the concept or political commentary watch The Stepford Wives, Get Out, The Hours, or Wandavision. If you like Florence Pugh, just watch Midsommar. However, if you have two hours to kill and feel like a flat, soulless, less-good version of all of these things, then Don’t Worry Darling may, in fact, be for you.

Written By

Steven Greenwood is a Montreal-based writer & director, and the Artistic Director of Home Theatre Productions. He holds a PhD from McGill University with a focus on queer cultural history, and he teaches university courses in film, theatre, and popular culture. His work is influenced by his passion for queer history & culture, and he is a fan of all things geeky, pulpy, campy & queer. You can find him on Twitter @steven_c_g or on Instagram @steven.c.greenwood.

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