Editor's Note: This review includes major plot details, so beware of spoilers ahead.
Maybe we should’ve been worrying a little, Darling.
Olivia Wilde’s second job in the director’s chair comes as a much anticipated, highly controversial and discussed fall original. While “Don’t Worry Darling” dominated headlines, little was said about the actual content of the movie. It was mostly about feuds between actors, replaced stars and a budding, high-profile relationship smack dab in the middle of it. All of that makes for great promotion, but it does nothing to fix this mess of a movie that really wasn’t worth such intense focus by critics, fans and really anybody who uses the internet.
“Don’t Worry Darling” has the skin of a great, psychological thriller, but a closer inspection yields a much different interpretation. This movie’s beautifully empty. The first half is painfully slow; it plays like a mildly uninteresting “Black Mirror” episode with brief glimpses of the truth that Florence Pugh’s character, Alice, is trying to find.
Pugh does her best to fill the time, but ultimately, she can’t make up for the lack of plot she’s given. She also finds little help from costar Harry Styles, who’s making his debut as a lead actor in this film. He clearly looks the part — he is, after all, one of the most recognizable faces on the planet — but his chops need some work. He has quality scenes as Jack, Alice’s husband, and there are certainly bright spots, but he spends too much time moping around to make it worth it. His charisma is mostly wasted, and it makes one wonder if this was the part to fully jump industries with. He was definitely enjoyable in “Dunkirk,” but maybe Shia LaBeouf was better suited for this role after all.
This brings us to the biggest aspect of this film: behind the scenes. It started off rocky when the original actor for Jack, Shia Labeouf, was either fired or quit the film due to a feud with Wilde. Then, when Styles replaced him last minute, he and Wilde quickly started a romantic relationship mere months after Wilde had separated from her previous partner, Jason Sudeikis, with whom she shares two children. Wilde and Styles’ relationship could explain the lack of chemistry between him and Pugh. It makes sense Pugh would feel uncomfortable filming sexually explicit scenes when her costar’s girlfriend was the one rolling the camera. Pugh and Wilde also apparently got into a “screaming match” on set after much tension that resulted in Pugh doing practically no press for this movie.
Then, finally: spitgate. Cameras picked up Harry Styles allegedly spitting on Chris Pine during a film festival, causing an internet frenzy. The rumors were dispelled by Pine’s representatives, but it was only fuel to the fire of this apparently crazy and dramatic filming and promoting process.
There are a ton of great actors here, but none of them, besides Pugh, rise to the occasion or are really even given a chance to shine. Chris Pine, for example, gives an extremely lackluster performance as the villain, Frank. He fails to be scary, compelling or interesting at all. Gemma Chan, who plays Pine's wife, is just … there. She gets maybe three lines and a redemption that doesn’t feel earned or satisfying. Then there’s Nick Kroll, who shows plenty of personality but isn’t given anything to do in the second hour. All of these beloved and acclaimed performers are batting far below their average. It’s disappointing and makes one wonder how much the environment on set affected the outcome on screen.
The actual plot of “Don’t Worry Darling” is what sinks this project the most. Like many psychological thrillers, it’s based on a seemingly perfect town called Victory where things seem too good to be true. The outfits, props and cinematography mirror 1950s suburbia. The physical look of this film is stunning. It’s fashionable, the music matches the tone and it creates an impeccable vibe. However, as soon as the plot moves forward, things get messy. Every day, Jack goes to work, though we don’t know where or what he does besides his title as “technical engineer.” Alice begins to worry something’s wrong, which is supplanted by her suspicious dreams of another life she vaguely knew. She suspects that Frank, Jack’s boss and the leader of the town, has ill intentions. She eventually figures out Victory is a lie and tries to escape, but the scheme’s not nearly developed enough to make sense. The pieces are never put together and it ends without a clear resolution.
The production of “Don’t Worry Darling” has given the internet a lot to talk about. The movie, on the other hand, is likely to not follow suit. This mediocre, half-baked thriller doesn’t break any new ground and is even slightly uncomfortable to watch. It’s unclever and unclean in the deliverance of its values and lessons. But, given that movie selection is pretty dry right now, it may be the only thing available to see. That’s a sad thing indeed.
Contact Jack Calabrese at email@example.com. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter and Instagram @Breeze_Culture.