Courtesy of Warner Bros.

October 25, 2022

A Stylish Sophomore Slump of Cinema: Olivia Wilde’s ‘Don’t Worry Darling’

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In an intimate conversation between Don’t Worry Darling’s central couple Jack (Harry Styles) and Alice (Florence Pugh), Jack reveals his desire for a child. “I want more of you. I want a little you. I don’t know, I think I’d be fun,” he says. For Jack, a baby is an aesthetic choice, a toy to suit his whims, but for Alice, it’s the disintegration of her daily life and her identity rather than a tiny lookalike. In a film that tries to be both an erotic thriller and a feminist commentary, small moments like these encapsulate Jack’s character: he means well, but doesn’t care to listen. Perhaps director Olivia Wilde’s execution of the film is similar: the shiny surface is beautiful, but the message gets shattered after too many cracks.

Don’t Worry Darling follows Alice, a 1950s housewife living in the Victory Project, a suburban idyll with something despicable under the surface. Pugh and Styles work convincingly well as a couple, but as expected, Pugh acts circles around Styles, especially in the film’s more dramatic scenes. In my movie theater, a gaggle of teenage girls even started laughing every time Styles was given a dramatic line. 

As a setting, the film renders Victory in pristine detail and deftly walks the line between a caricature of a 1950s utopia and a real, familiar Southern California suburb (something I know intimately!). I’m tempted to say the seamless production design and costumes are what carry the film — when the dialogue is questionable and Alice is yet again confiding in someone and being gaslit, the viewer can bask in Bunny’s (Olivia Wilde) Rita Hayworth-esque wardrobe, the mid-century modern finishes of the Victory homes or the freshly waxed pastel convertibles in the driveways. As for me, I can’t stop thinking about that dark wood record player/armoire in a dinner party scene. 

While Wilde and screenwriter Katie Silberman took an admittedly hairbrained screenplay and crafted it into something slightly more instinctive, a few moments in the script are a little predictable and don’t help to quicken the more than two-hour runtime, such as Jack telling Alice she’s “being hysterical” during a fight, and the “boys club” leading a chant of “Whose world is it? Ours!” 

As a director, Wilde prioritizes looks over content. You may have seen the film’s trailer, a highlight reel of Stepford Wives visual gags: eggs breaking with nothing inside, Alice wrapping her head in saran, Alice getting pressed to death while cleaning a window. They’re visually satisfying and no doubt creative, but don’t end up being relevant to the plot besides the general messaging that the “separate sphere” ideology is damning. Maybe this would have been groundbreaking during the rise of Second-Wave feminism but at this point has just become shorthand for a very limited view of women’s liberation.  Even as the film’s more contemporary messaging emerges (no spoilers here!), too much time has passed in our Palm Springs fantasyland for us to delve into the true implications and consequences for the women in Wilde’s scenario. 

This brings me to my next question: is Don’t Worry Darling a “feminist” film? Obviously that’s a loaded and multifaceted question, but there’s no denying it was marketed as such. Wilde repeatedly proclaimed the film’s emphasis on female pleasure, which, frankly, seems out-of-place and misguided in a story that is so deeply about female control.  

On a lighter note, Wilde’s first feature Booksmart and Don’t Worry Darling share a few key similarities. There are the pool scenes as moments of clarity, the ongoing motif of dance and of course, the fantastic needle drops. However, the two films differ in their treatments of an ensemble cast. In Booksmart, even the love interests of the love interests were portrayed with precision — who can forget Billie Lourd’s unhinged Gigi, in all her feathered, ayahuasca glory? Here, though, major comic players like Kate Berlant and Nick Kroll are criminally underutilized, left to play amicable, gossipy neighbors. Chris Pine is a decently slimy antagonist, but his storyline is sidelined too much for him to become truly threatening. 
Don’t Worry Darling may not be subtle, but it is gorgeous and compelling. When it tries to find nuance, it lands perfectly, but look closely and you’ll find that like Victory, the necessity of the film dissolves into smoke and mirrors.

Violet Gooding is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].