Leading up to the release of Olivia Wilde's second film, there has been a great deal of press about the stars, what happened on set, and who is and isn't supporting the film. None of that really matters when you are watching the film. Well, it mostly doesn't matter. There is a sense that the role given to Harry Styles was far more tailored to the likes of Shia LeBeouf. There is also a sense that the gossip about the film may be more interesting than the actual film, but more on that later.
The film is by no means a disaster but it is messy, cobbled together from better films, and has a twist that renders the film shallow. Styles gives a rather dull, low-energy performance as Jack. Jack lives with his wife Alice (Florence Pugh) in a neighborhood that houses the families of The Victory Project. In this 1950s affluent community, the men go to work and the wives waste their days away. The only rule is that the wives cannot leave the neighborhood, for their own safety they are told. The mysterious Victory Project is led by Frank (Chris Pine), a mixture of cult leader and tech guru. He aspires to change the work. How that is done is the central mystery of Don't Worry Darling.
The world these characters inhabit feels lush but sterile. All of the cars, lawns, and houses are pristine. Everyone drinks and has sex but none of it feels passionate or felt. Some of that is intentional and perhaps key to the plot, but some of it is due to the lack of chemistry between Styles and Pugh. The only true sultry moment comes from a burlesque strip tease by Dita Von Teese at an award party. While Styles lacks the layers to bring Jack to life, Pugh is arresting from frame one. She burns the screen up and almost everyone else in the film can hardly compare, Pine being the one exception.
While the film is a visual feast thanks to the seductive cinematography by Matthew Libatique and the great production design, its real problems lie with the screenplay by Katie Silberman (who also wrote the hilarious Booksmart). The plot liberally cribs from much better films which I won't mention here as I think they give too much away. However, while it pulls from some wonderful sources, it fails to understand what makes them great. The film's late-stage reveal of what really is going on feels silly and underdeveloped. It may work in the climax of the film for some but it raises more questions than it provides answers. When you think back on the film, now knowing its secrets, it doesn't hold up to scrutiny. You feel like the film was merely withholding information rather than building a mystery.
Hollow as the story ends up being, there is no denying the performance by Pugh. She is nothing short of incredible and practically makes this mess of film worth seeing.