There’s a secret at the heart of Don’t Worry Darling, and that’s half the problem. You can glean that from watching the trailer, and even if you’ve skipped it, you pick up on it within the first five minutes of the movie. Welcome to the town of Victory: a planned community that would have made Walt Disney’s original concept for EPCOT eat its heart out. It’s 1950s Palm Springs on steroids, candy-coated and fully choreographed.
Our happy couple, Alice and Jack Chambers (Florence Pugh and Harry Styles), live in Victory, in an idyllic cul-de-sac that isn’t right next to the heart of town but is closer to the center than others—a few lines of dialog reveal that there is a hierarchy to the homes. Of course, there is: Everything in Victory involves a hierarchy. Back to Alice and Jack: He works, and she stays home cooking the same food, scrubbing the same tub, washing the same windows day after day. She has no idea what he does at work or what any of the men in Victory do. All she knows is that every morning, at the same time, they get in their cars and drive outside of town together. Eight hours later, they come home to cooked meals, clean homes, and sex with the wife. Once that’s been ticked off the to-do, it’s time for parlor games, drinking, and dancing.
Amidst all these rambunctious nights and repetitive days, Alice starts to have doubts. One of her friends, Margaret (KiKi Layne), is behaving strangely, and no one seems concerned. When Alice voices hers, she’s told it’s no big deal and not to worry about it. But Alice worries. She also worries about the brief and violent visions of a Busby Berkeley dance line she keeps having. One day, the walls of the house collapse in on Alice and damn near suffocate her. Another day, Alice wraps her head in shrink wrap and almost suffocates herself.
Pugh is game for it all. Her performance is reminiscent of any young actor who gives it their all no matter how bad the material. Someday she’ll get the accolades and the awards, and then she can be one of those really good actors who routinely phone it in. Styles isn’t bad either; he’s just not given a lot to do. Same with everyone else: They’re ciphers, some more willingly than others.
That’s part of the secret behind Don’t Worry Darling, but I won’t give it away here. I will say that the movie hinges so much on the eventual reveal that it doesn’t really play like a shock. The only real shock comes when Alice learns that another character knew the truth all along.
Olivia Wilde directs Don’t Worry Darling from a script by Katie Silberman, Carey Van Dyke, and Shane Van Dyke, as well as acts. She is Bunny, the next-door neighbor who tolerates her husband (Nick Kroll) and treats her children more with amusement than affection. It’s hard to tell what Wilde’s game with Don’t Worry Darling is beyond the surface. The world she and her screenwriters construct is familiar, one that invokes the secrecy of the Manhattan Project, the subterranean terror of David Lynch, and the suburban horror of Todd Haynes’ Safe, but none of it quite gels. Especially after you’ve seen the movie and start asking questions: What were the causes of those subterranean tremors the wives felt while the men were away? And what was the deal with that plane Alice saw in the sky? And what happens after the end? We know where Alice is, what’s happened to her, who’s lying next to her, and a couple of other obstacles awaiting her. The more you think about that, the more you realize Don’t Worry Darling has one of the grimmest endings of all time.
Don’t Worry Darling (2022)
Directed by Olivia Wilde
Written by Katie Silberman, Carey Van Dyke, Shane Van Dyke
Produced by Roy Lee, Katie Silberman, Olivia Wilde, Miri Yoon
Starring: Florence Pugh, Olivia Wilde, Chris Pine, Harry Styles, Gemma Chan, Sydney Chandler, Nick Kroll, Kate Berlant, Timothy Simons, Douglas Smith, KiKi Layne
Warner Bros., Rated R, Running time 122 minutes, Opens Sept. 23, 2022.