Don’t Worry Darling- Film Review
With a title resembling a patronising comment made by a certain senior British politician to one of his female staff members, Don’t Worry Darling sets the stage for an intriguing dynamic between the genders. It is a dazzling world depicting a golden age of sunny skies, perfectly manicured wives and their celebrity looking husbands which all seems too good to be true and very old fashioned. Don’t Worry Darling provides a mesmerising immersion in to this idyllic, affluent landscape presenting that Belle Époque where cocktails, patient wives and seductive jazz bars are de rigueur. There is that unease emanating which was equally present in Pleasantville, The Truman Show, the Stepford Wives and also episodes of the Twilight Zone by this depiction of a perfect veneer, with white picket fences as the norm. Thankfully, Don’t Worry Darling penetrates the polished surface to present the underbelly including gaslighting to which its title alludes. Unfortunately, despite several promising themes unveiled, an aesthetically pleasing cinematography and that stylish editing, the film comes unstuck in attempting to reach a satisfying conclusion connecting its thread of revelations.
The world inhabited by Jack, played by Harry Styles, and Alice played by an impressively captivating Florence Pugh evokes the memory of old school Hollywood glamour. The men leave for work, the wives creepily synchronise their goodbyes and the husbands drive across the desert to work, in a drag car race style drawing parallels to a James Dean film. It is an enviable lifestyle depicting a seemingly simpler world without all of the technological intrusions within people’s personal lives. Therein lies the problem as such simpler times are also devoid of the equal treatment rights available to women nowadays. The women assume the ladies that lunch lifestyle, they service their husbands, live vicariously through them and have no agency. It would therefore be a far from ideal world for most of the women, through a modern day lens. In Don’t Worry Darling, the women’s conversations would possibly fall foul of the Bechtel test on that basis, which is an interesting development given that there is a woman director at the helm, or perhaps that is the point as an inverse critique.
Similarly surprising is this notion of the male fantasy narrative essentially being construed through a female lens structure depicting a world where the patriarchy reigns supreme. However, this is where director Olivia Wilde has perhaps performed the best type of sleight of hand. The original story may have been written by two brothers but the screenplay is written by a woman and therefore a feminine voice may be more omnipresent than initially perceived.
Despite its cohesive flaws and a less than strong performance from Harry Styles, who is easily eclipsed by Florence Pugh, Don’t Worry Darling pits the desires of women against those of their partners and the status quo. The glitz and the glamour of the film may equally serve as distractions in parallels to the real life drama surrounding the film’s publicity tour. Florence Pugh confidently delivers her character within such setting to make audiences simultaneously envy, sympathise and then pity her. Wilde’s direction conveys a degree of unease and with synchronised dance routines resembling Suspiria there is that underlying pervading sense that Alice’s world may be crumbling inwards.
Don’t Worry Darling’s editing assists in amplifying the tension that Alice experiences although there are pacing issues. Editing decisions to use mirrors, which are a reflection of our persona and soul, embrace a sinister notion. This is juxtaposed by Wilde’s bold directional choices displaying stylish flourishes with split edits and fragmentation of dances and costumes from a bygone era. It will be difficult not to be transfixed by Don’t Worry Darling’s intoxicating aura.
With so many cinematic and stylish references to fashions and attitudes occupied historically, it is difficult to know where Don’t Worry Darling intended to position itself whilst embracing thriller and horror tropes. Don’t Worry Darling may feel thematically rich but ultimately unsatisfyingly hollow by the time of its finale. Fortunately, Florence Pugh saves the day in Don’t Worry Darling. She exudes that star quality and is an onscreen delight, from the onset, with the camera panning around her movements whilst playing drinking games and dancing. The subsequent close ups adopted, to convey Pugh’s fears as Alice, accentuate that degree of paranoia felt to chilling effect. The problem is that unshakeable sensation that Wilde, perhaps not unilaterally, was frustratingly unable to decide how to conclude Alice’s story well.
Don’t Worry Darling is therefore best enjoyed for its stylish references to that Belle Époque and the cinema of yesteryear depicting that idyllic microcosm. Overall, its critique of various institutions and structures that seek to limit women is an engaging concept. It is therefore disappointing that the film diverges from this world in its quest to provide a crowd pleasing solution which threatens to undermine the film’s critiquing message and is a missed opportunity to innovate within a well made, stylishly seductive film.