If Olivia Wilde’s sophomore effort as a director were better, I might lament the distracting pre-release gossip surrounding the movie’s reported on-set squabbles and romantic intrigues, which mostly dominated its big premiere at Cannes, but as they say there’s no such thing as bad publicity and if the tabloid intelligence does anything it actually deepens Don’t Worry Darling‘s shallow subtext. Though I would recommend approaching the film as a thriller rather than as social criticism, Wilde and her scenarist, Katie Silberman, give away the game at such a furious pace that, depending on the viewer’s patience, they may not derive any sense of suspense.
We know, for example, that the California desert community of Victory is something of a dodge right from the get-go. It’s the 1950s (or 60s, depending on which oldie is playing on the soundtrack) and the action is set on a cul de sac where perfectly made-up women stay at home cleaning house and making perfect meals that their husbands can enjoy when they get home from work. They offer their better halfs lots of sex and spend their copious leisure time shopping, drinking, and working on their figures. Because Wilde incorporates all the most hackneyed stereotypes of American postwar connubial culture into the story, the viewer immediately gets hip to the notion that Victory is not a real place, a feeling reinforced by our protagonist Alice’s (Florence Pugh) occasional hallucinations and brief out-of-body experiences. That means the viewer’s job is to figure out just what it is that’s wrong with Victory.
Alice’s distress only increases as her husband, Jack (Harry Styles), is promoted within the shadowy Victory Project, the only employer in town, which is busy working on some top-secret engineering endeavor the wives are not privy to. Once Alice starts speaking up about her unease, prompted by the attempted suicide of a neighbor that’s been hushed up, the movie becomes more interesting but keeps stalling, thus effectively damping the story’s tension. What’s more, the particulars of the plot confound what would initially seem to be the film’s overarching theme about the tenacious appeal of patriarchal systems. Except for Alice and the woman who attempts to kill herself (and who is Black, though even that aspect isn’t explored in context), none of the women question their secondary status, but even Alice seems to have larger issues (her very survival) than parity with her partner. All this mysterious business is explained with perfect precision in the end, but by then you’ve already concluded that Don’t Worry Darling is merely a rehash of ideas that have been done to death before, and with better results.
Opens Nov. 11 in Tokyo at Human Trust Cinema Yurakucho (03-6259-8608), Shinjuku Piccadilly (050-6861-3011), Shibuya Parco White Cine Quinto (03-6712-7225), Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills (050-6868-5024).
Don’t Worry Darling home page in Japanese
photo (c) 2022 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.