Don’t Worry Darling review: Florence Pugh shines in a thriller
Olivia Wilde’s second outing as a director after 2019’s coming-of-age comedy Library is brimming with drama and mystery – and that’s just a description of don’t worry darlingscandalous promotional tour.
Did Wilde fall out with star Florence Pugh, who was noticeably absent from a number of the film’s red carpet events? Did she fire original actor Shia LaBeouf because of his “fighting” acting style? Or did he resign of his own free will?
There’s even more to wonder when it comes to the film itself, a psychological thriller set in a seemingly idyllic 1950s American town owned by the enigmatically utopian Victory Company. Pugh and Styles’ young married couple, Alice and Jack, seem to be living the perfect life in this suburban oasis in the Southern California desert, where the men go to work every day in their pastel-colored, big-finned cars while their doting wives spend their time dusting, polishing and cooking, or shopping, taking dance lessons and chatting at the local pool.
On the surface it’s a world of chic glamour, but if you take a Stepford Wives atmosphere you are not alone. Alice also thinks there is something wrong with this image. What exactly does Jack and the other husbands do at Victory Project headquarters every day? Working on “progressive material development,” says charismatic Victory boss Frank, played with Rat Pack cool and a hint of menace by Pine.
What are the earthquake-like tremors that sometimes disturb Victory’s daytime calm? And why does Alice have hallucinatory black-and-white visions of dancers performing Busby Berkeley routines? Is she cracking up, the fate that befell Alice’s troubled neighbor, Margaret (KiKi Layne)? At least that’s what everyone argues after Margaret starts questioning the rules of life in Victory.
In all likelihood, you’ll probably be ahead of Alice when it comes to figuring out what’s going on, and frustrated when Wilde and screenwriters Katie Silberman, Carey Van Dyke and Shane Van Dyke finally show their hand. Prior to that, Wilde and his cohorts are taking heavy blows at patriarchy and knocking us over the head with authoritarian symbolism. Pay attention to the scene where Alice, increasingly oppressed by her fate, wraps her head in suffocating cling film.
The look of the film, however, is flawless. Cinematographer Matthew Libatique (previously Oscar nominated for Black Swan and A star is born) and production designer Katie Byron bring the world of film to brilliant perfection – Wilde cited high-society photographer Slim Aarons’ sleek images of mid-century Palm Springs as the visual reference for the film. The impossible brilliance only adds to the surrounding feeling of unease.
But the film’s greatest asset is the formidable Pugh, who draws us into Alice’s growing paranoia and all-consuming determination to uncover Victory’s secrets. Predictably, she outclasses Styles (in only her second film after her debut in Christopher Nolan Dunkirk and, to be fair, better here than you may have heard), but she’s well matched in her scenes with Pine, who brings a creepy, cult side to the man at the heart of the film’s mystery.
don’t worry darling is in theaters from Friday, September 23.