Don’t Worry Darling: Nothing to Worry (or Get Excited) About Olivia Wilde’s Pseudo-Psychological Thriller, Starring Harry Styles and Florence Pugh

Don’t Worry Darling: There’s Nothing to Worry about this Well-Crafted Film with Lofty Ideas that’s Ultimately Defeated by its High Concept, Stale Narrative, and Familiar Generic Trappings.

If you live on this planet, you may have heard of a “small” and “harmless” sexual-psychological thriller, Don’t Worry Darling, helmed by actor-turned filmmaker Olivia Wilde in her second directorial outing.

 

(See our articles about the numerous scandals that have preceded this picture (pay gap along gender lines, was Shia LaBeouff fired or did he quit, as he claims, falling out between director and star Florence Pugh, who refused t0 do press, Wilde’s ongoing affair with her leading man, pop star Harry Styles).

It’s always a risk to bow a movie in a major film festival–even out of competition–in a prestigious and popular venue such as Venice. Warner, which releases the movie later this month, has taken such a risk, and is now facing an uphill marketing challenge for a film that has been greeted negative critical response.

Following its bow in Venice, Don’t Worry Darling will screen at the Deauville American Film Festival and San Sebastian Film Festival before its American theatrical release on September 23.

On its own terms–without the extra-baggage–the skillfully crafted, well-acted Don’t Worry Darling could have been a just a mediocre picture, a sporadically entertaining, mildly engaging psychological thriller.

Though claiming to be original–the scenario is credited to Katie Silberman (who had also penned Wilde’s first and better movie, Booksmart, the movie is anything but original.

Indeed, savvy viewers would be able to recognize how much it borrows from thrillers like the superior 1976 The Stepford Wives.

(Director Wilde has claimed that she was inspired by the 1987 blockbuster thriller Fatal Attraction, starring Glenn Close, and the 1993 erotic drama Indecent Proposal, starring Redford and Demi Moore; both films were directed by Adrian Lyne).

Set in the 1950s, as the story begins, Alice and Jack seem to be happily living in the idealized community of Victory, an experimental company town, housing the men who work for the top-secret Victory Project.

Reflecting the zeitgeist of the Eisenhower era, the social optimism espoused by their CEO, Frank seems creditable in being equal parts corporate visionary and motivational life coach; it anchors every aspect of daily life in the tight-knit desert utopia.

While the husbands spend every day inside the Victory Project Headquarters, working on the “development of progressive materials,” their (“Stepford”) wives–including Frank’s elegant partner, Shelley–are privileged to enjoy the beauty, luxury and debauchery of their community.

Is life, both domestic and public, as perfect as it appears to be on the surface? It seems that the needs and desires of every resident are met by the company (which remains mysterious for too long). All they ask in return is discretion and unquestioning commitment to the Victory cause.

Soon, some tensions and cracks begin to show symptoms.  It is certainly the case of Alice’s existence. When cracks in her idyllic life begin to appear, exposing flashes of something much more sinister lurking beneath the attractive façade, Alice can’t help but question exactly what they’re doing in Victory. And why has her husband kept them so secretive.

It is at this point that the movie begins to deteriorate rapidly in narrative logic, energy, steam, interest and involvement.

The last (and weakest) reel is devoted to the question of just how much is Alice willing to lose–the price–in order to expose what’s really going on in this paradise?

Credits:
Director: Olivia Wilde
Producer: Roy Lee, Katie Silberman, Olivia Wilde, Miri Yoon
Writer: Katie Silberman
Release Date (Theaters): Sep 23, 2022 Wide
Runtime: 122 minutes
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Aspect Ratio: Scope (2.35:1)