The high concept for Don’t Worry Darling — The Matrix meets The Stepford Wives with some Busby Berkeley–esque dance moves thrown in for good measure — sure sounds like a recipe for fun. And it was mostly entertaining, but I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed.
Director Olivia Wilde’s first feature, Booksmart, was so promising, and Don’t Worry Darling, also written by Katie Silberman, is a slicker-looking, more thematically ambitious project. But despite the mostly excellent acting and well-set-up undercurrents of tension and anxiety, the film doesn’t quite add up to more than the sum of its parts.
Those parts include the fabulous Florence Pugh, who steals every scene she’s in. She’s just an incredibly captivating actor, and as her seemingly perfect world begins to unravel down a rabbit hole, you feel every emotion — denial, disbelief, anger, heartache, fear — along with her character.
Pugh’s character Alice starts out in a world of the “Victory Project” company town, where every cocktail dress is gorgeous, every martini is picture-worthy, and every perfectly coiffed wife comes out in the cul-de-sac to wish her husband a fond farewell every morning. Production Designer Katie Byron definitely makes the most of her looking glass, creating the setting for a “perfect” world that subtly begins to convey a growing sense of unease that ultimately takes over the film.
Playing Alice’s husband, Jack, is Harry Styles, who doesn’t embarrass himself as the randy head of the household who rushes home from work to pleasure the little woman before he’s even had a bite of the fancy meal she has ready for him on the table. Styles is fine — face it, the camera loves him — and if Pugh weren’t so great, he might seem a little better. But you never forget you’re watching a member of One Direction up on screen, especially in a weirdly long scene where he does an extended dance number on stage at a Victory company party in response to getting a big promotion. I know the throngs of twenty-something female fans who filled the theater would disagree, but I found Styles to be the weakest link in a very strong team of actors, which also includes Chris Pine, Gemma Chan, Kiki Layne, Sydney Chandler, Nick Kroll, and Wilde herself.
A short, tension-filled scene between Pugh and Pine (the head of the top-secret Victory Project) gives a glimpse of what this movie might have been if Pugh had a stronger scene partner. Somewhere in the film is a biting satire about the dangers of the American Dream and traditional male and female gender roles, but Don’t Worry Darling ultimately only gives us a few crumbs.