Support The Bulwark and subscribe today.
  Join Now

‘Don’t Worry Darling’ Review

Spoiler: there’s reason to worry.
September 23, 2022
‘Don’t Worry Darling’ Review

If you’ve heard of Don’t Worry Darling, it’s likely because of all the drama swirling about it. Did director Olivia Wilde sleep with star Harry Styles, and was Harry Styles brought on because Shia LaBeouf was fired? Or did Shia LaBeouf quit because there wasn’t enough time for rehearsals? And why isn’t Florence Pugh doing any promo work for the movie: Does she hate Olivia Wilde because she was sleeping with Harry Styles instead of getting each shot ready? Did Harry Styles spit on Chris Pine at the Venice premiere?

So much drama, such little time. It’s the gossip hound’s must-watch movie of the year, which probably helps explain why the movie’s awareness numbers—which spiked at the end of August and beginning of September—have leveled off since all the juicy chatter died down.

But is it any good?

Florence Pugh plays Alice Chambers, a housewife living in a planned community with her husband, Jack (Styles). The two of them keep things spicy in the bedroom (and on the kitchen table) while enjoying the little Levittown in which they reside. Wine at the mall, endless rounds of martinis at the dinner parties later on: it’s a lush existence, in several senses of the word.

But something’s not quite right. None of the wives know what their workaholic husbands actually do all day at the mysterious headquarters that is off limits from everyone but the husbands. Where does Jack get off to during the day while Alice and Bunny (Wilde) smoke cigs and sip chard in their lawn chairs? Why do the walls literally close in Alice when she’s doing the windows? Why do all of the couples in town seem to have one of three backstories? Why does one of her neighbors kill herself after protesting that something is very, very wrong in their town?

If you’ve seen the trailers, you know that there’s a twist coming; I won’t spoil it here—I won’t even compare it to the film or streaming series the twist feels like it is a knockoff of, out of an abundance of caution for your sensibilities—but it’s the sort of “shock” that people are either gonna love or hate, and I kind of hated it. The revelation in Don’t Worry Darling is not just derivative of other, better works; it is the worst sort of pandering to an audience already primed to love “The Stepford Wives, but with a modern spin!”

There are small pleasures in Don’t Worry Darling. Pugh brings a steadiness to the unraveling of her character that renders it more believable than the script suggests it should. And it’s always fun to watch Chris Pine go to work. Playing the big boss man of this little community, his jaunty stance and soulful eyes render him a perfectly chilling cult leader. Styles and Pugh have genuine chemistry, at least in the early going, but as things fall apart he doesn’t quite bring the abjectly pathetic quality the role demands. In my notebook, all I have for his performance is “he looks like an angry frog.”

Wilde is working in a more visually adventurous manner than her previous directorial effort, Booksmart, and while some of the imagery is a bit hackneyed—again, that walls-closing-in moment—the film is rarely visually boring. There’s a frenzied moment a little more than midway through when Styles is dancing his heart out on stage by himself for a cheering throng and the camera keeps cutting from him, to a devilish Pine, to a nauseated Pugh, and it’s nicely manic and uncomfortably weird.

Unfortunately, the weirdness doesn’t pay off quite as wickedly as one might hope.

Sonny Bunch

Sonny Bunch is the Culture Editor of The Bulwark. Before serving as editor-in-chief of the film site Rebeller, he was the executive editor of and film critic for The Washington Free Beacon. He is currently a contributor to The Washington Post and his work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, National Review, Commentary Magazine, The Weekly Standard, and elsewhere. He is a member of the Washington Area Film Critics Association