Olivia Wilde’s “Don’t Worry Darling” is set in an idyllic 60’s town called Victory where life is perfect. The men go to work, the women rear children and maintain the household and absolutely no one questions the status quo. Until someone does, and reality starts to unravel. After a series of disturbing visions and uncovering some of Victory’s countless secrets, Alice, played by Florence Pugh, realizes she is trapped in a simulation. Alice was a successful and busy surgeon in the 21st century. Threatened by her and feeling incompetent, her husband Jack, played by Harry Styles, leans into the darker parts of the internet. He finds refuge with a community of men who have trapped their wives/girlfriends in a 60’s simulation so they could pretend to feel important and “manly.” Jack traps Alice, Alice figures it out, and all hell breaks loose.
The writing and scoring of the film was amazing, keeping viewers on their feet and creating necessary discomfort throughout the film. Harry Styles’ acting was, unsurprisingly, fantastically subpar. However, I thought Chris Pine and Gemma Chan were superbly casted. Florence Pugh’s performance was as gripping and shocking as ever. While I don’t think “DWD” is going to make it to The Academy Awards, I believe that if any part of the movie would, it would be Pugh’s performance.
I was most impressed with the various references to other movies within the psychological thriller/horror sphere; I suppose Wilde is more cinephilic than I gave her credit for. That being said, I worry the goal of these references was to subliminally put “DWD” on the same level as the movies she referenced. I felt Wilde was leaning on the references too heavily, at times it just all felt too on the nose.
You can draw obvious parallels between “DWD” and “Black Swan” with the dark ballet imagery and the main characters slowly losing their grip on their perceived realities. When Pugh’s character was entering and exiting the simulation, the almost embryonic graphics used reminded me of the graphics used in “2001: A Space Odyssey” when the main character entered into another dimension.
To me the most obvious reference was the contraptions to hold open the participants eyes, it was the exact same as the contraption used in “A Clockwork Orange,” even down to the dropper used to keep the open eyes lubricated. I suppose in some ways even the desired effect of the respective “treatments” was similar: a subservient being.
Comparing “DWD” to “The Truman Show” might be low hanging fruit, but you can bet your bottom dollar that I was at least going to mention it. Speaking of low hanging fruit: rhythmic chanting and breathing? Doesn’t ring a bell. Rhythmic chanting and breathing and Florence Pugh? Boom, “Midsommar.”
Truly these references left me wishing I was watching the referenced movies instead. Wilde’s various references didn’t tell me that she had a vast knowledge of her field but rather that she couldn’t come up with something, so instead relied on the “Greats” to do it for her. With all the love in the world, Olivia Wilde should stop leaning so heavily on Stanley Kubrick. Wilde has proven to us with “Booksmart” that she is a talented and capable director, I just wish she would have leaned into her own ability here a little more, because I really do think “DWD” had the potential to be great.
I didn’t love this movie. And I know some of you want to saw my head off because of that, and that’s fine, but hear me out. Was it shocking? Absolutely. Was I expecting the plot twist? Not at all. Does that make it a great movie? Unfortunately not. It wasn’t bad by any means, but it didn’t even touch my top 20 movies despite its constant references to those aforementioned movies. “Don’t Worry Darling” was eclipsed by its own media shadow and unfortunately could not perform standing alone.