The tongue-wagging gossip has superseded Director Olivia Wilde’s new film “Don’t Worry Darling,” starring Florence Pugh and Harry Styles. The series of unfortunate events bogged down the director’s premier at the Venice Film Festival and continues to plague the film as critics unsuccessfully push the tabloid dribble to the back of their assessment of the film. Admittedly, it’s difficult to do this, but it’s also unfair not to do so. As I watched with a jaded lens for the first 10 minutes, I forgot all the bristling tittle-tattle and was pulled into the story, its visual prowess washing over me, as I attempted to find the story’s puzzle pieces and put them together.
The story is set in the “idyllic” 1950’s where men went to work and women scrubbed and cleaned the bathrooms then made a four-course meal for the breadwinner who arrived home with a drink placed in his hand by his perfect wife. (Idyllic from whose perspective?) And this is where the sci-fi aspect begins to meld into the story. Alice (Florence Pugh) and Jack (Harry Styles) seem the happy young couple, making their way in a planned experimental development helmed by Frank (Chris Pine) who is lauded like a savior of souls. Parties, day drinking, and catty groups of women shop and chat all day long, that is, after their daily tasks have been completed, but Alice senses that something is off as she envisions horrific events in her dreams and then her waking hours. Pushed to the edge, Alice must fight to save her life as the throngs threaten to thwart her understanding and independence.
If that sounds cryptic, it’s meant to be. The story has its twists and turns which are what keeps our minds reeling and our eyes glued to the screen. As we watch Alice careen around dangerous corners, learning bits and pieces of the truth, the puzzle pieces begin to fit together. Unfortunately, there are a few pieces missing creating holes in the overall plot development and a slightly dissatisfied feel to the ending.
The aesthetics of the film, however, couldn’t be more gorgeously created as we are thrown back in time. The colors, the decor, the costuming, and the cars. No detail is too small to transport us back to this era. Cinematographer Matthew Libatique’s skilled and creative lens elevate the visual feel and Wilde’s direction allow this aspect of the film to reach new heights. As the story becomes more surreal, staccato images and special effects remind us that this is no ordinary planned urban development. Wilde holds strong as a director, a visionary, delivering a captivating film even with a few flaws that slightly take the wind out of the story’s sails.
The actors, overlaid on this beautiful visual canvas, find just the right tone to bring us an edgy, and tension-filled mystery. Pugh shines in anything she does, connecting this time to a bright young woman conflicted by her memories or dreams. Together with Styles, his character a rising star amidst the group, the couple is immediately engaging as the story focuses upon Alice. Wilde even has a small but fun role as Bunny, a no-edit-mode mother of two who drinks her days away as she waits for the bus to drop off her kids. While Pine delights in his role as a leader, delivering inspirational speeches, Nick Kroll never seems confortable in his role as Dean, Bunny’s hubby. Equally odd in casting is Timothy Simons as Dr. Collins, a menacing company doctor doling out unspecified drugs.
The mystery is there. The lead actors shine. The directing and cinematography both round out the feel of the film, but the story loses its pacing midway through, relying on your ability to focus on the aesthetics instead of the story. Additionally, those holes in the plot leave a bad taste in your mouth leaving more questions than answers to this promising sci-fi film.