Is there any way this movie could be more interesting than the drama that preceded it? In “Victory”, California a community of utopia exists. The decade? The 1950s. Led by visionary Frank (Chris Pine) and his technical architect Dr. Collins (Timothy Simons), this finely crafted community exists away from the tumult the outside world is exposed to. In this community, it is control over chaos, and everyone falls into the roles their gender dictates.
No one questions this, until Alice (Florence Pugh) begins to. Her life with husband Jack (Harry Styles) is full of fun parties and hot intimacy. But once Alice sees her friend Margaret (Kiki Layne) breaking mentally, she starts experiencing her own unsettling visions and happenings that feel too vivid. Eventually, her curiosity leads her out to the desert of Victory, the one place women are told not to venture towards in this community. What she stumbles on is only the tip of a troubling iceberg.
Yours truly doesn’t need to bring up all the messy incidents and controversy surrounding Don’t Worry Darling and its production; People, ScreenRant, and many other outlets have covered it well. So let’s try to focus solely on what’s presented on the silver screen while acknowledging that some of those issues may have had a role in the final product. Overall, Don’t Worry Darling’s biggest issue is simply that many other movies have been able to better dissect the same subject it does in a much sharper fashion.
The film is the directing follow-up from Olivia Wilde after her debut in helming Booksmart. Some of her recurring motifs are quite obvious and repetitive. However, as far as total visuals and scope go, Wilde shows an ability in presenting a visual playground that is definitely influenced by many prior works, yet feels very original in its own right. Some film worlds are ones that don’t lend themselves to getting lost in, the world Wilde creates despite a lot of other presentation aspects not quite coalescing is one that is super intriguing in its own regard. She doesn’t do it alone, as huge assists are provided from cinematographer Matthew Libatique, and production designer Katie Byron in addition to many more contributors that should be up for awards season nominations. The fully realized creation of Victory is a moderately sized victory in of itself.
Combining strong elements from The Stepford Wives, Pleasantville, and The Truman Show along with prominent sci-fi films and even hints of video games like Bioshock and Fallout 3, the story of Don’t Worry Darling has a lot on the mind; namely gender and power dynamics, body/life autonomy, and the like. With the script finalized by screenwriter Katie Silberman making tweaks (to what exact level I’m uncertain) to what was originally on the famed Black List from sibling writers Cary and Shane Van Dyke, what is left is a story that is serviceable in the moment.
After some time removed, some bigger cracks in the story show. The “why” pertaining to certain first/second act happenings can be inferred with a third act twist. That said, just as many happenings in those acts do not fare as well with the same application. The abrupt ending itself opens up a lot of logistical “How?” and “What now?” thoughts. Of course, no film needs to spell out everything and nor should it, but when there are so many things that are decidedly not minor that go essentially unaddressed, it is hard not to be left with a bitter taste in mouth.
An ensemble cast makes up the movie, but the rightful focus is on the phenomenal talents of Pugh. In her short career, she has shown the chops to pull off anything and do whatever a feature asks of her. With a cleaner script, she’d be getting deserved nomination buzz. Pine is vividly villainous, and the movie is electric whenever he’s in frame. Sadly, he and Gemma Chan’s character are victims of underwriting and a poorly executed twist with no buildup. And of course, this piece would not be complete without a thought on Styles. If he were 5th or 6th in the importance of characters, less of the spotlight would be put on him. The megastar looks the part and is capable in a few scenes, but the ones that desperately need someone to be around the skill level of Pugh, he is very much incapable of matching.
“Don’t Bother Darling” on Don’t Worry Darling? That has been a common early refrain online, and though the sentiment is too harsh, the film’s lasting legacy after the chaos dust has settled might just be a oft-heard one of style over substance.
Photo credits go to netherlands.postsen.com, slashfilm.com, and ew.com.
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