Juicy drama on set of “Don’t Worry Darling” doesn’t make up for poor final product

Media Credit: Krishna Rajpara I Assistant Photo Editor

Florence Pugh excellently conveys several powerful, cathartic moments that immerse viewers and provide emotional weight to some of the movie’s best moments.

After enduring a month of drama, viral tweets and news cycles, “Don’t Worry Darling” has finally hit theaters, yet Olivia Wilde’s second feature film is unfortunately unable to deliver a product as gripping as its promotion cycle.

“Don’t Worry Darling” does offer pristine cinematography, a show-stopping performance from Florence Pugh and a visually entertaining and creepy premise about a 1950s-style couple in an eerily perfect world. Despite these strengths, the film sports a convoluted plot that thinks it’s smarter than it actually is, a weak screenplay and a hilariously off-base performance from superstar Harry Styles, all of which stop “Don’t Worry Darling” from reaching its true potential.

The movie features Pugh and Styles as Alice and Jack Chambers, a couple living a seemingly perfect 1950s-inspired life in their picturesque paradise of a neighborhood, overseen by Jack’s boss Frank, portrayed by Chris Pine, who gives a solidly creepy performance. The warm feelings are quickly dashed, however, as Alice begins to notice recurring oddities that have her questioning her husband, friends and life as a whole.

That being said, viewers are not only flocking to “Don’t Worry Darling” because of its Twilight Zone-esque premise. The movie has been one of the most highly anticipated releases of 2022, due to its tumultuous promotion cycle that saw reports of on-set arguments between Wilde and Pugh, a controversy involving former lead Shia Labeouf and a viral video allegedly depicting Styles spitting on Pine at the Venice Film Festival.

Initially, Labeouf was set to portray Styles’ character, Jack, but in late 2020, Wilde allegedly dropped Labeouf from the production after details came out about singer FKA twigs’ lawsuit alleging Labeouf physically abused her. In 2022, the controversy further escalated when Labeouf claimed he had quit the film himself rather than Wilde firing him, and then released a video appearing to show Wilde begging Labeouf to stay and disparaging Pugh.

Pugh and Wilde’s rocky relationship has been well-documented, allegedly stemming from disagreements over Wilde and Styles’ intimate relationship on set and the film’s sexual promotion style, with Pugh saying the trailer was “reduced to sex scenes.” Pugh infamously did not participate in the film’s promotion, and in late September, a report confirmed a screaming match between the two, as well as a “long negotiation process” that led to Pugh’s absence from promotion.

Wilde has explicitly advertised the film as “feminist,” but has faced criticism for her apparent defense of Labeouf and overtly sexual marketing of the movie. Wilde also drew ire for the film’s twist, which features a half-baked social message that feels almost out of place with the rest of the movie.

The promotion cycle, which dominated Twitter feeds throughout the months of August and September, remains the most exciting aspect of “Don’t Worry Darling.” The movie has enjoyable trippy moments that will at the very least keep viewers interested, but the film never quite capitalizes on them correctly, leaving the film with a vibe that tries to be creepy for the sake of being creepy rather than any narrative purpose.

Wilde’s direction serves the film fine, but toes the line of being overindulgent at times, with repeated trippy visual sequences that lose their visual luster rather quickly, and a multitude of eerie ’50s songs that overstay their welcome. Wilde and screenwriter Katie Silberman also struggle a bit with organization, introducing and then essentially abandoning several concepts in favor of the shoehorned twist in the final third act, derailing any interest stemming from the strong premise that’s built up in the first two-thirds.

Silberman also helped write Wilde’s first film, “Booksmart,” but was tragically unable to recreate the tight and relatable script that movie presented. Instead, “Don’t Worry Darling” is chock-full of awkward lines, inconsistent character development and poorly integrated social commentary that the cast mostly cannot save.

Pugh and Pine, however, are both excellent and are able to nail down the classic thriller protagonist and antagonist roles perfectly, though Pine feels underused towards the end of the film. Pugh excellently portrays a terrified-yet-determined woman discovering the truth of her circumstances, and has several powerful cathartic moments that immerse viewers and deliver emotional weight to some of the movie’s best moments.

While Styles’ mere presence will certainly be enough to fill seats for “Don’t Worry Darling,” his painful line deliveries and inconsistent British accent does not inspire confidence that the superstar musician can embark on a successful acting career. Styles isn’t completely helpless, but does have the misfortune of acting opposite the Oscar nominated Pugh, causing him to appear way in over his head by comparison.

The film’s other redeeming quality, the cinematography, shines alongside Pugh’s performance as the only aspect of the film that consistently delivers for the entire runtime. Cinematographer Matthew Libatique, who has worked on similar psychological thrillers like “Black Swan” and “Requiem for a Dream,” uses his knack for unsettling yet eye-catching tracking shots extremely well, which successfully emboldens the creepy vibe.

“Don’t Worry Darling” is not a completely worthless film, but viewers excited to see it after the memorable production cycle will likely be disappointed by its shortcomings, with a lack of organization, rough performances and inability to capitalize on its concept. The movie is visually entrancing, and Florence Pugh can do no wrong, but “Don’t Worry Darling” simply does not offer enough to justify its own shaky existence.

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