Rea Reviews: “Don’t Worry Darling”

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[MINOR SPOILERS for Don’t Worry Darling]

Don’t Worry Darling‘s composite score is currently 58.29.

It is never the goal of a film critic, especially one for a publication, to have their opinions clash with the consensus. A critic’s aim is to inform, to educate the masses on their particularly trustworthy judgement of a film, so going against the status quo and issuing a “hot take” is not something a film critic such as myself takes lightly. The stylish sci-fi thriller Don’t Worry Darling, actor-director Olivia Wilde’s follow-up to the unbelievably hilarious Booksmart, is not a well-received movie by audiences or critics. But in spite of its mediocre composite score that includes an abysmal 38% on Rotten Tomatoes, it is my opinion that Don’t Worry Darling is compelling and chilling, and created an atmosphere that hooked me from start to finish. I absolutely loved it.

The film is wonderfully heavy on genre, leaning into the quirks and tonal extremities of science fiction while also dipping its toe in the ethereal, uncanny nature of horror and the exhilarating, heart-pounding energy that fuels a thriller. This multifaceted emphasis on genre injects invigorating personality into Don’t Worry Darling, and lifts the already immaculate direction, writing, and ensemble into a ceilingless chamber of unlimited potential. It is rare that a movie has so much figurative helium that it drifts into this stratosphere forever, and indeed, Don’t Worry Darling is eventually popped by the inescapable needle of mistakes and flaws. Nevertheless, the heights it reaches are lofty enough that these issues do not cause it to come crashing down.

Don’t Worry Darling opens with Alice and Jack Chambers, a couple who live in an idyllic company town called Victory. Victory is styled like the 1950s – though set in an unknown and unclear time period – and every day, Jack (Harry Styles) comes home to Alice (Florence Pugh) from his work on the Victory Project. The town’s enigmatic, deeply unsettling leader and founder Frank (Chris Pine) discourages discussion around the work that the men in Victory do, and forbids the women from visiting Victory Headquarters on the outskirts of town. As you might predict from a thriller about a seemingly utopian reality, Victory is not what it seems; something is askew, and the increasingly paranoid Alice must figure it out. This predictability is indicative of a greater problem – that of Don’t Worry Darling‘s highly derivative nature.

Don’t Worry Darling is, admittedly, a byproduct, an amalgam of similar media that coalesce to form a new film. The Truman ShowThe MatrixGet OutInception, and The Stepford Wives all influence Wilde and her screenwriter Katie Silberman so heavily that the film doesn’t have much original content on its mind. However, it’s hard for me to be too hard on an uninventive plot when its execution is so good – Don’t Worry Darling steals from great movies, but in doing so, it manages to become great in and of itself. There’s also the issue of loose ends. The credits roll at the worst possible moment, leaving the viewer with gargantuan, unanswered questions. However, these questions are not too bothersome in the long-term.

Some movies should be meals, others are content being amuse-bouche. Don’t Worry Darling is the latter, a bite-sized dish of indescribable flavor and delectable consistency. It is admittedly irritating to walk from the theater wanting more, but it is also a testament to the scrumptiousness of the dish. The roller-coaster ride that is Don’t Worry Darling is fascinating, and leaves me with a taste in my mouth that can only be described as exquisite. The fact that it reminds me of some of my all-time favorites is doubtlessly a reason why I loved it so much. There are, however, other (and better) reasons to call Don’t Worry Darling an amazing film.

For one, the ensemble that Wilde has assembled in Don’t Worry Darling is glorious, an enormously talented cast that makes their movie all the more vibrant. Granted, Harry Styles is the weak link here – his musical superstardom does not seem to have translated into any proper acting ability, turning a nicely nuanced character into a Dr. Jekyll-and-Mr. Hyde persona that constantly flips between a slab of cardboard and one of those ersatz “best acting” YouTube compilations that feature ten clips of men screaming at the top of their lungs. Olivia Wilde, Gemma Chan, Sydney Chandler, Kate Berlant, and Kiki Layne are all far better, refining their Stepford wife mannerisms into the actions of sympathizable characters. Chris Pine is fantastic, playing his creepy and cultish role Frank with ample gravitas, excelling marvelously in the dinner scene that kicks off the third act.

However, the cast member that surpasses all others has to be the remarkable Florence Pugh, who leads Don’t Worry Darling with one of the best performances of the year thus far. Pugh, who has impressed audiences and critics time and time again in a wide variety of films, delivers another flawless performance in Don’t Worry Darling, aweing with a transformative bout of acting that slowly evolves from content and complacent to frantic and defiant. Pugh’s metamorphosis is deeply reflective of the analogies Wilde is making between Victory and the patriarchy. The women of Victory must, literally and figuratively, wake up to the suppression they are ignorantly enduring.

My love for Don’t Worry Darling, and its thematic and stylistic tendencies, is best summed up by John Powell’s exquisite score, especially his consummate finale track “Victory Chase,” an 8-minute musical masterpiece in the context of even the greatest composers. In the filmography of John Powell (How to Train Your Dragon, Solo: A Star Wars Story) it asserts itself as his magnum opus, the greatest piece of music that he has ever composed, and perhaps the pinnacle of film scores this year – potential exceptions including The Batman‘s “Can’t Fight City Halloween” and ATHENA‘s “Les princes de la ville.” “Victory Chase” is an orchestra of female voices, some oppressed, some having broken free, and perfectly reflects the film’s thematic sensibilities.

Beginning with an unsettling, inarticulate loop of a whimpering girl, the track soon adds quick drumming and a low tuba along with a loud choir of righteous women who evoke a distinct sense of revolution in the listener. When paired with the titular victory chase, the score is elevated from mere creativity into genuine mastery. The acting, editing, and cinematography in the scene are also excellent as the film asserts its thesis and bondage is broken, shackles cut clean through by raw determination. Indeed, every technical element in Don’t Worry Darling is good – the cinematography colorful and artistic, the editing quick and sharp, and the art direction sparing no expense in creating the world of Victory. Olivia Wilde uses her talented technicians to compile Don’t Worry Darling into a cohesive, beautiful cinematic vehicle, directing the movie to its fullest potential.

Don’t Worry Darling gets a score of 4 stars from me; it’s a fascinating, genre-bending exploration of sexism under the guise of an immersive utopian world.

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