Make America Great Again
Don’t Worry Darling reminds me of the controversial John Lennon song “Women is the N***** of the World”. The 1972 single is agitprop at its most blatant, employing the titular racial epithet as a means of offensive, highly-loaded language to unsettle, upset, agitate, and shock the listener into embracing the parallel Lennon and Yoko Ono are drawing. Much like director Olivia Wilde in her sophomore film which, in keeping with the art of exploitation, uses the provocative images of women self harming, receiving electro-shock therapy, and just generally being told they’re being crazy. The meaning of Lennon’s homology is lost on none who listen, equating worldwide sexism with American racism, challenging the global problem of subjugation and control with regards to gender politics. It’s a demanding song, and hard to love for many reasons, but it sticks with you. The problem with Don’t Worry Darling is that at some point in the midst of the film, shock turns to shlock. The challenging Lennon refrain fades, replaced, almost without any explanation, with the more familiar ballad of Beyoncé’s girl power anthem “Run the World”.
Neither song actually play in Wilde’s film – the era-appropriate soundtrack selection and composer John Powell’s distinctively breathy, pulsing score remain an absolute high point – but the spirit of both represent the bifurcated whole that is Don’t Worry Darling. As does their inherent clash with one another.
At its core, Don’t Worry Darling aims to be a timeless tale about would-be hysterical woman who just need to live, laugh, love a little harder. Much like in The Stepford Wives, a film that Wilde’s has rightfully drawn comparison to since its first trailer, themes of female subjugation, patriarchal control, and the false premises of feminine perfection are explored, though the script from Katie Silberman, Carey Van Dyke and Shane Van Dyke doesn’t quite know what to do with these themes other than to warm them over for a new generation. And any 1950’s housewife worth her salt knows that reheated leftovers are a poor substitute for a freshly prepared meal.
The decidedly not-so-wild woman of Wilde’s film play housekeeper to their company men husbands, all of whom work at the mysterious organization Victory, a walled-off, secretive society that oh-so-vaguely “manufactures progressive materials.” In the too-good-to-be-true desert paradiso of Victory, CA, the men scurry off to work in uniform fashion while the women are left behind to gossip, assemble Good Housekeeping-worthy dinners, and slug down bottomless cocktails. Often poolside. When their men return home to them, dinner is more often than not passed over for a steamy shag. The hierarchy of wifely duties starts with the carnal desires of hard-worked men. A five-course dinner is great but feasting on the wife tends to be the preferred move. Outside the utopian oasis lays a barren waste where women are instructed never to venture. Mystery abounds.
Florence Pugh is Alice, a Victory wife. At first, Alice appears to love her confines. She gets to play house, bang her hot hubby Jack (Harry Styles), and entertain good-spirited friends with seemingly endless cocktails parties at their chic ranch-style abode. Her life is simple but she sparkles with fulfillment. But even a good dog grows to resent its cage. When an agitated neighbor suggests that there’s something sinister taking place behind the curtains of their peaceful community, the veneer of Victory’s quiet perfection is shattered. Alice is left reeling, the walls closing in around her both figuratively and literally. She must sort out who is friend and who is foe all while maintaining her increasingly fleeting sanity in a community that’s quick to label curious women “crazy”.
When all is said and done, the intention of Wilde’s picture are obvious, and at times more politically motivated than narratively motivated. I just wish that the substance of Wilde’s critique – pointed squarely at the “turn back time!” MAGA camp – outshone the volume of her critique. This is ultimately a shame because Don’t Worry Darling has a lot going for it before it collapses in on itself like an undercooked sponge cake – seemingly perfect until it implodes into mush. Moving into the final stretch, you can almost feel the air deflating out of the once promising picture as it moves towards its feather-rustling big twist.
For my sake, I was fully under Wilde’s spell throughout the first act. Her filmmaking is precise and unsettling for just the right reasons. Though the repetitive and overlong second act shows even more of that promise, it beings to lose steam before fully devolving into a sluggish, cold, and unearned final stretch. The ending is nothing if not a major disappointment. Wilde’s actual filmmaking impresses nonetheless. This second round, the actor-turned-director proves herself even moreso a reliable, capable hand behind the camera (the bevy of interpersonal drama notwithstanding), adding visual flourishes that enhance the sluggish script. At times her work even suggests the uneasy thrills of Alfred Hitchcock, like when Alice is caught in hallucinatory flashbacks to a life that remains obfuscated, from her and the viewer both.
Despite an impressive cast that includes Chris Pine, Gemma Chan, Nick Kroll, and Wilde pulling double duties as Alice’s best friend (a touch of irony there) Bunny, Pugh carries the whole of the movie on her back. Her work here is extraordinary, brimming with texture, strength, and emotional honesty. She’s so good that the rest of the performers pale against her. There’s palpable chemistry between the two young Hollywood star leads, even if Wilde hasn’t quite honed his craft as an actor, leaving an inedibly seductive mark on what could have been a rather sexless proceeding if left to less alluring performers.
The biggest issue comes late in Don’t Worry Darling when the tonal switch described above occurs and, much like Pugh’s Alice, it comes hard. What seems to be a modern indictment of timeless dynamics turns instead into a weirdly ra-ra-ra pop ballad. The shift is both tone-deaf and unearned, the script fundamentally failing to earn the twist, thereby leaving this viewer cold and indifferent, despite Pugh’s Herculean efforts to make me invested in the outcome of her character. At the end of it all, Wilde’s film feels little more than an overlong Black Mirror episode with nothing to say that isn’t almost cloyingly obvious. Worry indeed.
CONCLUSION: Olivia Wilde’s feminist satire boasts a terrific Florence Pugh performance, a remarkable score, and illustrious production details (including some impressive camerawork) but the whole of ‘Don’t Worry Darling’ is let down by a bumbling script that flatlines in the final act.
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The post ‘DON’T WORRY DARLING’ Caught Between Sexy Paranoid Thriller and MAGA Utopia appeared first on Silver Screen Riot.