Harry Styles truly raised expectations for the much-anticipated film “Don’t Worry Darling” when he said in an interview that his favorite thing about the movie was that it, in fact, feels like a movie.
As the film’s troubled production finally gave way to the actual premiere in theaters, Styles’ take is about as positive a way to frame the film as possible.
The second feature film by actor-turned-director Olivia Wilde (“Booksmart”), “Don’t Worry Darling” is a hyper-stylized psychological thriller. While the film touches on important topics with stunning design, it’s ultimately a weak, uninteresting story that is further lowered by poor direction and acting.
The film focuses on the seemingly wonderful lives of Alice (Florence Pugh) and Jack Chambers (Harry Styles), a couple who live in the picturesque desert town of Victory during the 1950s. While Jack and the other husbands are busy at the mysterious Victory Headquarters every day, Alice starts to question the true nature of the unsettling town and its cult-like leader Frank (Chris Pine).
Given the film takes place in the ‘50s, one of its strengths is its main theme of oppressive, conservative gender roles. Between Pugh’s acting and Wilde’s direction, the film clearly attacks the patriarchy in the ‘50s and the present. Additionally, Wilde accentuates the theme through scenes of Pugh suffocating herself or getting crushed by a literal glass wall.
Highlighting this old-but-eternal issue is the film’s lavish production design.
Visually, the “Don’t Worry Darling” captures the glamor of the time period flawlessly. From the mid-century modern houses and decor to the bright dresses and dark suits, production designer Katie Byron (“C’mon, C’mon,” “Color out of Space”) turns the film into a vibrant canvas.
Working in tandem with the movie’s appearance is the equally captivating sound design. Nearly every other scene features a record player in the background. The inclusion of musicians of the time in the soundtrack feels equal parts comforting and eerie.
While “Don’t Worry Darling” tackles important issues with design that transport the viewer back to the 1950s, the film fails to make any coherent argument or even keep the audience involved.
The biggest letdown is how Wilde’s direction takes the movie’s powerful themes and runs them into the ground. From constantly mentioning words like “control” to immediately signaling which characters are the heroes and which are the villains, it’s obvious what the moral will be within minutes of the theater going dark.
Part of this blunt approach is also due to the film’s cliché story, which feels like a ripoff of great psychological films of the last few years.
From “Get Out” to “Midsommar” — which Pugh also starred in — recent thriller films have leaned in on the trope of everything appearing fine while a societal terror lingers beneath the surface. Though previous movies have nailed this theme, “Don’t Worry Darling” makes it feel played out.
Doing no favors for the story are the underwhelming performances by some of the actors, particularly Harry Styles. Appearing opposite Pugh, who captures the dread of Alice perfectly, Styles feels like a stock character of a 20th-century businessman in comparison. While this nameless, cog-in-the-machine approach might be what he was going for, Styles relies too much on screaming and attempting to ooze charisma, both of which make the character feel like a caricature.
While it’s possible to forget about the weak acting and uninteresting story and get caught up in the movie’s visuals and lofty ideals, “Don’t Worry Darling” is ultimately another case of endless hype resulting in a massive letdown.