Editor’s Note: A Daily staffer is affiliated with Warner Bros., but they were not involved in the creation, production or publication of this piece.
I don’t want to talk about Harry Styles possibly spitting on Chris Pine (that didn’t happen), or the potential feud between Olivia Wilde and Florence Pugh or the unconfirmed downfall of Harry Styles and Olivia Wilde’s romantic relationship. So I’ll address all of that now — none of these rumors have anything to do with “Don’t Worry Darling,” although they seem to be clouding the judgment of movie-goers.
I admit: I was starting to get nervous as the days crept closer to the premiere of Wilde’s new film. Would pop-star Styles blow his reputation as a chart-topping artist with a poor acting performance? Would the drama carry over to the theater? Would the film I had been patiently and excitedly waiting to see for two years ultimately be forgotten days after viewing?
I went to see “Don’t Worry Darling” on Sept. 19 at an early viewing in Livonia, Mich. The tickets included a pre-film Q&A live streamed from the New York premiere with eight cast members present, including Styles, Nick Kroll, and director and producer Wilde. The theater was packed, and I became extremely aware that this was the moment my questions about the quality of “Don’t Worry Darling” would be answered. I settled my nerves with a large Coca-Cola, leaned back and waited patiently.
To set the record straight, I have been a fan of Styles as a musician since his One Direction days, so when the crowd went wild at the sight of him during the Q&A, I realized how much was at stake: If his performance was poor, I would have to admit that my favorite musician should stick to music. The thought of that claim sent shivers down my spine. I took a deep breath as the lights in the theater dimmed.
Set in the 1950s, “Don’t Worry Darling” follows the life of Alice (Florence Pugh, “Midsommar”) as she navigates the experimental community of Victory. Alice lives in this idealized neighborhood with other housewives, all of whom cook, clean and love their husbands on repeat, while the men, including Alice’s picture-perfect husband Jack (Harry Styles, “Dunkirk”), go to work. The wives are asked to trust their husbands and, above all else, to not question the work the men leave to do every morning in their shiny pastel-colored cars. When Alice notices fractures in her otherwise perfect life, she begins to question why she’s really in Victory.
Florence Pugh masters the role of Alice, a woman gaslit into believing that she’s gone mad. Her stellar performance is no surprise — Pugh kills the role of Dani in “Midsommar,” another thriller where her character endures bizarre and traumatizing events. She establishes herself as the star of “Don’t Worry Darling” within the first few minutes. When Frank (Chris Pine, “The Contractor”), the leader of Victory, comes along, we all know he’s going to play a perfectly hateable villain. Alice and Frank are an intriguing duo, one that keeps you on the edge of your seat.
Victory is similar to the town of Seahaven in “The Truman Show” — too perfect, with houses all shaped the same in colors that compliment one another — an obvious signal that there is something ominous lurking. It’s clear that “Don’t Worry Darling” is commenting on gender roles and the entrapment of the traditional housewife; however, it’s fair to argue that it doesn’t add anything new to that conversation. Alice is stuck in this community, unaware of its purpose, while her husband goes to work to “change the world,” as Frank declares. There isn’t much else to it in terms of feminist value.
What I will argue is that “Don’t Worry Darling” does address gender roles in a striking and original manner through its content and style. Wilde’s direction is strong, with dreamlike visuals that mark Alice’s status as a prisoner to Victory’s rules. These hypnotic images appear from time to time, and when they are exposed for what they truly are, Wilde’s expertise is apparent. “Don’t Worry Darling” functions as a psychological thriller should, full of unexpected twists and suspense.
Regarding Styles’ debut as a lead in a highly anticipated film, I can confidently say that he surpassed my expectations. Styles’ character Jack is not the star, and he shouldn’t be the star in a film that asks pertinent questions regarding gender roles. Styles’ character is there to supplement Pugh’s, and he succeeds in that venture.
“Don’t Worry Darling” is an enthralling thriller with twists that will shock movie-goers. But if you’re hoping for the next significant contribution to feminist cinema, you may be disappointed.
Daily Arts Writer Laura Millar can be reached at email@example.com.