Mystery-Thriller “Don’t Worry Darling” is Olivia Wilde’s sophomore outing as a director; she made “Book Smart,” a brilliant coming-of-age buddy comedy film. Florence Pugh and Harry Styles play Alice and Jack Chambers. They live in what appears to be the fifties, “American Dream” type of home in a town called Victory, a desert-paradise visual look and feel to Palm Springs.
It’s picture-perfect; all the houses have modern-midcentury architecture and decor, surrounded by pools, palm trees, and never-ending cocktail hours. Chris Pine is Frank, the inspirational leader of the Victory Project.
The men put on their suits and drive off to work in beautiful vintage automobiles, to work at the mysterious Victory Project, which they swear consists of “developing progressive materials.” Before their husbands leave, the wives happily send them off with lunch, only to welcome them home at the end of the day with a whiskey, a three-course meal, and whatever else will make them happy.
While their husbands are at work, the Victory wives (look exactly how you’d picture a 50s housewife to look) clean the house, prepare food, and gossip with the other wives at the swimming pool—wondering what their husbands do. The deal is, to keep this idyllic life, you can’t ask your husband what he’s doing at work.
Alice enjoys her life until her friend and neighbor Margaret (Kiki Layne) ventures beyond the town’s confines, out into the desert where they’re not allowed to go, and promptly becomes suicidal. Margaret’s distress is hushed up. After thinking she’s seen a plane crash, Alice makes a similar journey out into the desert, where you are not allowed to go. After the experience, Alice thinks none of this adds up and is convinced she’s in the middle of a huge conspiracy.
It’s clear from the beginning that something’s wrong with the Victory Project. Everything happening is never specified where or when this takes place. Victory is a designer’s dream full of pastel colors, fabulous cars, and picture-perfect life making the setting feel artificial. But it’s artificial in a way that makes you think; I wonder which gimmick the story will take.
Have they all been brainwashed? Is it another version of the “Truman Show”? Is it the “Matrix”? When that question is answered, it feels anticlimactic because there isn’t any workable tension about what’s going on.
Florence Pugh does a brilliant job at making you stay interested and invested when the film doesn’t deserve that investment. Pugh was convincing when her character thought she was living the perfect life and hit a wide emotional range when she realized something was off.
The story is from her POV and pins her as an unreliable narrator as she discovers the truth behind the Victory Project. Harry Styles was perfectly bland for this role, which is precisely what Jack needed to be. The rest of the cast is excellent; they don’t have enough screen time.
The production design, sets, cars, and costumes put you right in the 50s era and were beautiful to see. The cinematography was gripping by making me feel uncomfortable when it wanted me to. The camera and editing create anxiety and a claustrophobic experience.
“Don’t Worry Darling” is well designed and looks fabulous. Florence Pugh’s performance carries this film, but the script is the biggest disappointment. Once the reveal happens, it leaves many unanswered questions that are never addressed. Lead supporting characters do drastic things without any explanation, and we’re not there for the aftermath. The film is not as clever as it thinks it is.