Article by Loren Miranda
CREDIT: Vogue Magazine
As a 1D stan who has loved Harry Styles for more than half of my lifespan, I had to see Don’t Worry Darling in theaters the day it came out.
Following the release of Harry’s House, I had romanticized the film so much in my head that I was sure it’d be the film of the year. 🎶 I just think you’re cool. I dig your cinema. 🎶
Leaving the film, I was severely disappointed.
Disclaimer: spoilers ahead! (How have you not seen it yet?)
Disclaimer part two: I am not a movie geek by any means. I’m usually the kind of gal who will simply enjoy any movie just because it’s a movie and I’m easily entertained.
Set in a utopian 1950s neighborhood, the women of Victory, California, don’t have much to want in life. They live in a perfect society: They wear fashion-forward housewife aprons and live in gorgeous homes in beautiful suburbia. They wave their husbands off in the morning (after making them a hearty breakfast, of course,) while the men drive to work on their secret assignment, “The Victory Project.”
Despite the women not knowing what it is their husbands do all day, most of them accept the reality that they will always be blind to the true nature of the men’s work and brush it off. Cooking a three-course dinner for their husbands to come home to, scrubbing the house until it is spotlessly pristine, then shopping ‘til they drop. It's as though they are each an intricately, beautifully wrapped present waiting for their husbands to come home and open.
The movie begins to gradually employ creepy thriller effects right from the beginning, slowly cueing the viewers into questioning what is beneath the picture-perfect surface. The introductory visual of all the women in the neighborhood watching their husbands’ identical cars drive off is off-putting; the too-perfect cookie-cutter homes don't seem to bother them, though. At night, the carefree, cigarette-adorned women dance with wine glasses on their heads for their husbands, who watch them hungrily.
Alice and Jack Chambers (besties Florence Pugh and Harry Styles, respectively) are a young, attractive couple living in Victory who are deeply and undeniably in love. They slow-dance like there’s no one left in the world except for each other. They have no children because they’re “too focused on each other.” The kitchen table scene. That’s all that I should have to say about that.
Harry’s performance was less than impressive (it’s honestly hard for me to see him as any character other than himself), but the dynamic between the main couple throughout the film was one of the most redeeming aspects of it. In the beginning, it truly seemed as though the relationship was affectionate and reciprocal, despite the obvious power imbalance.
The genuineness of Jack and Alice’s love for each other was the only anchor for Alice before her gradual descent into madness. This is why it was more devastating when it turned out that Jack had been deceiving her all along. He forced Alice into a reality she never chose to be a part of.
When it’s revealed that Alice is a hardworking girlboss surgeon who actually slays so hard and definitely doesn't need a man, it’s such a stark difference from the dependency that Jack had secretly been curating in her psyche while she was in…the simulation? The video game? I’m still not 100% sure what happened in this movie.
At first, I thought the confusing, unclear plot structure was purposeful; Alice being brainwashed by the droning voice she hears throughout the day could explain her freaky, cult-like-film nightmares that quickly start coming to life. She sees her friend Margaret commit suicide, and no one believes her. When she tells the men, they dismiss her as “hysterical.” This is an adequate commentary on how women are generally brushed off as overly emotional at times, with the #MeToo movement and subsequent incel backlash; but it is only rudimentary. I wish it had gone deeper.
The use of visual cues between how the women behaved on their own versus when the men were around was a great use of cinematography; the details were 'all about control.' The houses are colorful shades of pastel with beautiful green grass and, above all, perfect uniformity. Conversely, the dance studio where the women take compulsory dancing lessons is gray and dull. During rehearsal, they are focused on a goal of perfect symmetry. They don't smile, pretty mouths frowned while practicing the dance to perfection. This was one of those nuanced moments that added a layer of intrigue for viewers. The juxtaposition of using dance, which is supposed to be expressive and freeing, instead as an oppressive method of control was a great plot device to use.
The supporting actresses who play alongside questioning Alice do a stunning job at giving the impression that the women are willfully ignorant. The housewives are constrained in an invulnerable agreement to never wonder what the men do all day, much less ask. I found their gossip as the only real insight into the otherwise one-dimensional women’s minds that viewers ever saw throughout the film. I loved it.
I was hoping it would delve a little more into the theory behind gossiping and how it is essential for women to survive, but Alice’s relationships with the other women seemed more restrained if not unnurtured. There wasn’t as much of a theme of uplifting all women as I would’ve liked. (Remember when she fully backstabbed Margaret, her “friend”? That was so rude of her.)
The diversity of the cast was higher than what would be typical of a 50s-era movie, which was a nice touch, but the film still felt it was filmed from a non-intersectional white feminist's perspective. (Because it was.) It could have taken a more refined standpoint but instead seemed to rely on cheaper stereotypes. Here is where the film fell in on its own legs and started to become monotonous rather than go deeper, or even just proactively move the plot along. (Like, did we have to watch the creepy cult clips 7 different times?)
That's where the film kind of hits a dead end, at least for me. We all know sexism = bad and that women are capable of the same work that men are… We all agree with that, right? Right?? I can just barely squint and see the complex meaning that the team was grasping for here, but I ultimately feel Wilde just didn’t have enough to say in this film to satiate me. At all.
Also, don’t get me wrong. Florence did an incredible job in this film, nothing less than I’d expect from her. So much so, I would say she was one of the only redeeming aspects of this movie. But! Having such a powerful actress in a role that was supposed to be a gradual, suspenseful build-up felt like too much too soon. It felt like we had hit the climax of the movie at least three times before the actual ‘climax’ ever even happened. I kept getting excited that we would uncover a new angle or plot line, but the movie just stuck with the tired sci-fi wannabe Black Mirror schtick and didn't even bother explaining it.
The world set up a potentially interesting concept to consider exploring, but the resolution was so hastily put together, it seemed like they were just making shit up to make it seem deeper than it is. It really was a waste of what could have been a great movie. (Maybe if Olivia Wilde was a better director. Or even just a better person… but we can't unpack that here.)
I think Wilde had a great vision going into the film, but the execution ended up being muddier than she was probably hoping for. She just expected everyone to read her mind and understand what she meant, but not in an artsy pick-your-own-adventure way. Combined with the incredible talent both behind the camera and in front of it, it feels as though 🎶maybe we got lost in translation.🎶
When the plot twist came into play about half an hour before the movie ended, the audience in the theater around me was visibly, and audibly, confused and disappointed. Especially when Jack’s alternate, incel, TERRIBLE-AMERICAN-ACCENT-HAVING persona came on-screen. (Harry, you are so great at music! Just stick with that, okay?)
To conclude this rant
With such an extensively slow build-up, viewers had much more time to question the gaping plot holes that were barely mentioned, much less explained! What was up with the random earthquakes every day? What happened to that one plane that crashed? Whatever happened to Margaret? (Is she okay? I miss her.)
The best way to describe this movie is the filmmakers were more concerned with the importance of aesthetics and having a star-studded cast over including any semblance of meaning in the film. If you want to watch a movie that will immediately make you forget everything that happened the minute you step out of the theater, BUT features hot actresses to appreciate aesthetically, Don’t Worry Darling is a great choice.
At least Rowdy Nation got that incredible Harry dancing scene out of it. You know the one.