Tuesday, 27 September 2022

Don't Worry Darling



Usually, there is no need for the Cinema assistant to say ‘good luck in there’ when entering the screen. Unless they’ve seen the film and it's particularly awful. But this friendly warning was when we arrived at the cinema to see a group of 15 teenage girls (and a few other smaller groups of girls) all waiting to get into the screen, but had to have their IDs checked. Usually, a large group of teenagers in general is something you would want to avoid but is expected in a blockbuster, not a psychological thriller. Of course, the girls were there for Harry Styles and maybe, to a lesser degree, the controversy that has surrounded this film since it began filming.

Don’t Worry Darling, when it was announced a few years ago was set to be the intriguing and much anticipated directing follow up from Olivia Wilde. Casting announcements then rumours on set followed, but it was when Wilde and Harry Styles appeared to be a couple was when things really kicked off, especially at Venice Film Festival. It’s a shame that the gossip has overtaken how the film has been received, with people comparing the lead being more exciting than the film itself which is such a shame as Wilde has delivered a worthy film. It’s by no means perfect but it’s still entertaining with some fantastic shots and a great performance from Florence Pugh. 

Jack and Alice are very much in love. Living the dream, along with other couples who have been chosen to take part in the Victory Project, a community built out in the desert. While the men go off to work each day to headquarters, the women live a relaxing existence, keeping house. But when a friend appears to lose her mind and question everything, especially the strict rules, Alice too starts to notice strange things happening. Questioning her own sanity she tries to go looking for answers with life shattering consequences.

Set in the 1950s, desert company town, California, everything is pristine and elegant. Everything feels and seems perfect right down to how the eggs appear to be, perfect. When everything looks this perfect, its dreamlike and we’re left with an uneasy feeling. This discomfort doesn’t go away as you try to unravel the mystery in time with Alice, played by Florence Pugh. From the outset, we are brought into this world where everyone is happy and content and when something is too good to be true, it most certainly is. Debating whether this is an experiment, a cult or a combination of the two is all wrapped up in what the men are actually doing at headquarters and what Frank, the enigmatic leader is trying to achieve. The mystery isn’t what the Victory Project really is, its about the people as we already know that something is not right from the start. The setting, layout of the town and small clues along the way, such as the club where they all celebrate being called ‘The Dollhouse’ are all pieces of the puzzle left for us to observe rather than for Alice to pick up on. We are being fed lies and misdirection as well which adds to the anticipation at the end. But as things are rushed, there isn’t enough to completely satisfy. The story isn’t wrapped up neatly but nor should it if the story answers the questions. Unfortunately, there is too much focus on the ‘showdown’ at the end which could have been shorter in favour of more dialogue scenes. 

The atmosphere reminds me very heavily of The Stepford Wives, not the remake that missed the point no matter how enjoyable. As well as other more recent films like Old, which relies on the explanation squashed in at the end or even The Village which has its reveal on screen rather than through long amounts of dialogue. There are so many questions that are left unanswered, which might be on purpose as we can’t know absolutely everything. Our focus is on Jack and Alice and how their lives are impacted by everything. Though the ‘big’ question is sort of answered, the question of why did this happen isn’t given a full satisfying end. Apparently, there were a lot of scenes cut that included Margaret, the women who discovers the truth first, these might have been more useful and created a bigger picture. Maybe we’ll get these in a home release. 

While the cast as a whole is great, Pugh stands out as she is carrying the film. But as Styles also has a huge role to play too, he needs a mention. Dare I say it, that this role would have worked better with Shia LaBeouf who was originally cast but dropped out. On one hand he would have brought the intensity and ‘weird energy’ needed but Styles is much better as the naïve and at times insecure person Jack is meant to be, inside and out. But LaBeouf would have sold the climatic reveal. Casting Styles was an interesting choice and yes, would bring in a whole different audience who wouldn’t necessarily see this genre of film. 

There is an otherworldly quality to Wilde’s film that is to be admired and unfortunately is being judged more harshly due to the events surrounding the making of it. Despite the rushed moments towards the end and lack of further explanation in others, Don’t Worry Darling is a film that could grow on you or could deter you from the subjects explored (trying not to spoil it here). Ignore the controversy, see the film and make up your own mind.