Don’t Worry, Darling(s): Considering Harry Styles/Olivia Wilde’s controversies, and oh, the movie they made together

Infidelity against comedy’s most lovable character, Ted Lasso. Lying on video – and getting caught – when it comes to all things Shia LaBeouf. Spitting on Chris Pine.

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Infidelity against comedy’s most lovable character, Ted Lasso.

Lying on video – and getting caught – when it comes to all things Shia LaBeouf.

Spitting on Chris Pine.

Messing with Florence Pugh’s head and making her angry.

Elaine Bennis-like dancing to Harry Styles at his concerts.

Forget about how wobbly a film that director Oliva Wilde has made in Don’t Worry, Darling – her often obliquely ominous, Stepford Wives-like follow-up to her sharply-done Booksmart of 2019. Forget that she’s taken the epic, force of super-nature that is Harry Styles and turned him (ah, he turned himself) in his first big, leading man role, small and insignificant at a time when he should be nothing but huge.

Like trying to take Kanye West’s Donda records seriously after he’s been costumed like a fly holed up in a stadium in private and fashioned goofy drama against the Kardashians (and made himself more disreputable then even they), it is hard to find Wilde’s cinematic vision palatable when she’s allowed so much chaos into her filming schedule, let alone a very publicized life-as-of-late.

And yet, I’m not here to criticize how one or two or more of us or they live a life. That would be more hairbrained than Don’t Worry, Darling.

Bathed in a crisp, but 1950s-appropriate retro palette of beige, amber and auburns from its cinematography by Matthew Libatique (renowned for the waking nightmares of Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream), Wilde’s film about a utopian experimental community-gone-awry starts in a chicly urbane suburban setting not unlike the one that eventually welcomed murder and mayhem in everything from Bad Sisters to Big Little Lies.

Like those streaming shows, you can sense ill will and evil intent the minute you lay eyes on the too-perfect company town of Victory, California.

Here, in Victory, and under the watchful eye of the Victory Project workplace and a make-believe late-1950s-scape, husbands such as Jack Chambers (Styles, in an accent than never remains in one place for long), Bill (Nick Kroll) and Frank – the head of the company and the starry-gazed founder of the Victory Project – wear the pants as devoted housewives such as Alice Chambers (Pugh), Bunny (Wilde) and Shelley (Gemma Chan, a genuine queen bee to the hive as a character and as an actress) tend to their opulent, cookie-cutter homes’ chores and fuck without question on dining room tables. Bunny even goes so far as to have a what-isn’t-broke-don’t-need-fixing attitude when it comes to just how much overtime their husbands are putting into the highly glamorous company, its so-called “development of progressive materials,” and which and its long-mysterious project. Even when their friend Margaret (KiKi Layne) slits her own throat and falls from a roof, Bunny goes along with the program and keeps taking dance classes with her pals.

Alice though, played whimsically and wisely by Pugh – so-much-so, it isn’t even fair in retrospect that anyone (save for Chan and Pine) dared to act against her – begins to get curiouser and curiouser about her husband’s work and the real nature of the Victory Project, a nature all-but-given-away by an oily Pine’s arch, sensual Frank when he slowwwwwwlllllllly announnnnnnnnces that, as me, “We ask for strength, food at home, a house cleaned, and discretion above all else,” from their wives. Portraying the present, ominously and cruelly, as a re-imagined martini-filled, ring-a-ding past where and when women hadn’t yet been introduced to the pill, to liberation, to the work place and to true independence – and with Pine acting like a cross between Dean Martin and Guyana’s CEO Jim Jones – that which the project is geared toward is making sure the little ladies stay that way forever.

The future is then. The past is now. Keep drinking, ladies.

Luckily, Alice is seeing through the cracks, introduced as she is to mirage-like plane crashes in the desert only to be treated as if she’s had hot flashes, and must be placated. Still, once Frank describes what should be a cautionary tale, no one bothers to question the boss to the evils of his intents. Not even you, the audience, who has to sit through at least another 90 minutes of Don’t Worry Darling wondering if anyone is going to have the guts to stop this very dreamy-looking and hypnotic sounding guy.

Alice, however, is put off by Frank’s concepts even if she can’t put her finger on why (duh). First, she takes it out on herself the more that her deer-in-headlights husband demands of her – smothering herself in plastic wrap and smushed by a glass wall. Written by Katie Silberman as a sort-of Handmaid’s Tale with better clothing, metaphors such as these could have been (should have been) handled with greater subtlety. Instead, Alice perhaps can’t get through the weight of a ham-handed text, perhaps, to figure everything out clearly. For all of her knowledge, she must be silenced – I’m talking about the near-fate of Alice in the film and how discovery makes her a target, but I could also be discussing how somebody should have asked Silberman to either sharpen up or slow her roll on the bad dialogue tip.

Also a casualty of such clunky dialogue and Don’t Worry Darling’s platitudinal demeanor: Harry Styles, who doesn’t so much walk woozily through the skillset of acting as much as he does duck it, then cover, and wait for this 2 hour+ film to be over. Sure, his girlfriend directed this film. And surely he digs her, but honestly, you can tell he had better things to do. That said, Styles looks like a movie star, so that when Don’t Worry Darling opens this weekend, that alone will move the box office’s ticket sales’ needle.

While you question a present where men and women willingly opt out of reality so to live in a prefabricated, 50s-like existence and do as their told – a cult existence not so far from devotees of O’aNon or Woke leftists – you have to question why Wilde didn’t demand a script half as sharp, caustically funny and inventive for her sophomore effort. Or why she didn’t direct Don’t Worry Darling so to tamp down its script’s more (all) obvious moments for the sake of something more Hitchcock-ian and ominous.

That the whole thing is a gaslight simulation with a cruel streak – I won’t spoil the ending beyond that, a twist with a hint of Shyamalan, but more small ‘s’ than capital ‘S’ – proves that its creatives were thinking, even if it’s too little too late, and quite frankly, too viciously to be any good. If they had actually put that malice of afterthought into the forethought of Don’t Worry Darling…. That would have been a film worth seeing.

This one? Don’t worry about it?

    • A.D. Amarosi's Headshot

      A.D. Amorosi is a Philadelphia-based journalist who, along with Philadelphia Weekly, writes for numerous local, national and international publications including Variety and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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