The year was 1975 and the second-wave feminist movement was in high gear. Ironically, that same year the Bryan Forbes (The Angry Silence) directed film, The Stepford Wives made its way into movie theaters. The premise of the film was to create the "perfect" wives. Wives who did the cooking and the cleaning and who was waiting at the front door with a drink in hand and a smile on her face when her husband came home from work. Fast forward almost fifty years and the release this month of director Olivia Wilde's sophomore effort, Don't Worry Darling.
Alice Chambers (Florence Pugh; Black Widow) has an idyllic life. She loves her husband Jack (Harry Styles, Dunkirk), she has a lovely home in a beautiful community, friends, and an unlimited line of credit. She has everything she wants but when her neighbor, Margaret (Kiki Layne; If Beale Street Could Talk), starts acting crazy, insisting Frank (Chris Pine; Wonder Woman), the head of the Victory Project is lying to them all. While Alice doesn't believe Margaret, she begins to question everything around her and discovers all is not what it seems in Victory. Suddenly, she becomes the outcast Margaret was before.
Wilde had critical success directing her first film, Booksmart, about two high school seniors who discover they spent four years studying only to find out they haven't really lived. That movie had great pacing, interesting visuals, and a terrific cast of young talent. Sadly, this second film doesn't quite live up to expectations. Perhaps the bar was set so high, that Wilde had nowhere to go but down, perhaps controversy surrounding the production took a toll on Wilde or perhaps doing double duty of acting and directing at the same time left her disjointed and unfocused. Whatever the reason, Don't Worry Darling isn't as sharp and clean as Booksmart was.
One aspect that was superb for the most part was the cast. Pugh is a master at her craft and she can adapt to any role thrown her way. She is the brightest part of the whole film full of very good performances. Pine and Gemma Chan (Crazy Rich Asians) are solid as well as is much of the cast. Styles, however, is simply ok. Had he not been paired with such a wonderful actress, his performance might have come off better but Pugh overshadows him at every turn. He is like a hamburger surrounded by Filet Mignons... it's good but not even close to the quality of the premium steaks.
Sadly, the thing people will probably remember most about Don't Worry Darling is the controversy both on the set and most recently during the press junket for the film. If anyone is unaware, Wilde is dating Styles, which has created rumors and put a black cloud over the production. Styles was a replacement for Shia LeBeouf, who supposedly was fired but really wasn't, but maybe he was...a.k.a drama. Pugh has refused to do any press for the film and, according to some, Styles spit on Pine at the Venice Film Festival. WHAT IS GOING ON!?!
There is no doubt about it, Don't Worry Darling is 2022's version of The Stepford Wives. Luckily with today's technology, some "upgrades" make it superior and the costume and set designs are fantastic. The overall story is more than a little creepy and the execution of the film leaves much to be desired. Perhaps, with less drama and Shia LeBeouf or a comparable actor, the film could have been so much more than the sum of its parts.
Alas, Don't Worry Darling (not exactly sure if they even say those words in the movie) is mediocre at best.