Don’t Worry Darling movie review: Harry Styles isn’t the worst thing about this glossy but empty effort

·4-min read
Don’t Worry Darling movie review: Harry Styles isn’t the worst thing about this glossy but empty effort

Olivia Wilde’s hotly anticipated Don’t Worry Darling arrived on the Venice Lido carrying some very heavy baggage. Stories abound of friction between the director and her leading lady Florence Pugh, the latter only touching down in Venice after the press conference for the film took place. Added to that are the questions about Shia LaBeouf’s exit from the film – he was due to play the lead opposite Pugh – and whether he was fired or resigned.

At today’s press conference, Wilde faced a few questions about both Pugh and LaBeouf, but was unforthcoming, shutting it down with a vague “the internet feeds itself. I don’t feel the need to contribute. I think it’s sufficiently well nourished”. With the gossip surrounding Wilde’s relationship with LaBeouf’s replacement, Harry Styles, thrown into the mix, there is a risk that the telenovela storyline of the cast and crew risks overshadowing any conversation about the film itself.

Before we get to that, the big question on everyone’s lips is: Is Harry Styles any good? We know he can sing and pull off a great outfit, but has he got the chops as a leading man? Well, he’s not awful. To be fair to Styles, he is taking on his first major leading role opposite an absolute powerhouse, and his character is both weaker and less interesting than Pugh’s – but, on screen at least if not on stage, he lacks charisma and range. But he certainly isn’t the worst thing about Don’t Worry Darling.

Alice (Pugh) and Jack (Styles) are young, happily married, childfree and enjoying the good life of sex, cocktails and friends. It’s the early 1960s: the men head out to work every day and the women stay at home and love it. Think Mad Men meets The Stepford Wives, only not as good as either. They live in a company town in the desert, where Jack works as a technician for the charismatic chief executive, Frank (Chris Pine).

Olivia Wilde, Nick Kroll, and Chris Pine in a scene from Don't Worry Darling (AP)
Olivia Wilde, Nick Kroll, and Chris Pine in a scene from Don't Worry Darling (AP)

Both town and company go by the name Victory, and Frank rules both. He has created this idyllic oasis and filled it with his workers and their families, giving them everything they could ask for; he only asks that the women never go beyond the confines of the town, for their own safety. What are the men producing? What’s going on at the hilltop HQ in the desert? Why does the ground shake and why is everything top secret? To say more would be to risk spoilers, but all is not as it seems in this desert utopia.

Things start to go pear-shaped when Alice’s neighbour and erstwhile friend Margaret (Kiki Layne) starts going off the rails. When Alice then questions the Victory project, it becomes clear she is seeking answers at her peril. And yet it takes the film a good 90 minutes to reveal where it’s all going, by which point viewers have either worked it out for themselves or lost interest, possibly both.

One D fans, take heart – it’s not all bad. For starters, the film looks gorgeous. Wilde beautifully captures the sunny suburban loveliness, and every day that the women wave their husbands off to work looks like a gleaming ad from the era.

The women wear fabulous outfits and the homes are stunning, courtesy respectively of costume designer Arianne Phillips and production designer Katie Byron. The only trouble is that we see the same scenes repeatedly: the breakfast preparation, the men driving off to work, the evening cocktail, the enthusiastic sex between Alice and Jack. It all feels a bit... done.

There are excellent performances from Pugh and Pine, plus a nice supporting role for Wilde as Bunny, Alice’s fun, acerbic neighbour. But the film’s big reveal is something we’ve seen elsewhere to much greater effect many times, both in film and on TV.

Wilde has little time for the backstory that has led Alice and Jack to Victory and this omission is a gaping hole, making the denouement more confusing than revelatory. And in the end, from a 21st century perspective, those limited revelations seem reductive and more than a little offensive to men and women alike.

In cinemas from September 23