As one of 2021’s most intriguing cinematic events, Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling is a picture that has had our attention ever since we first laid eyes on its glistening imagery. Layered with mystery and secrets, Don’t Worry Darling is a thriller that will take you to the edge, and audiences had better hold their breath with this one.
Alice and Jack Chambers are a young, happy couple in the 1950s, living in the seemingly perfect company town of Victory, California, which has been created and paid for by the mysterious company for which Jack works. Curiosity about the nature of her husband’s work on the secret “Victory Project” begins to consume Alice. Cracks then begin to form in their utopian life as her investigation into the project raises tensions within the community.
With her 2019 teen comedy Booksmart, actress turned director Olivia Wilde took an established genre and found an entirely new sense of narrative and character within it, and it struck a chord with audiences. Now she returns behind the camera with her hypnotic and tension-filled dramatic thriller Don’t Worry Darling and it’s a 180-degree turn for Wilde as a director. And it works. Without wanting to divulge spoilers as this is a film that is best consumed in a single sitting, her film’s narrative is one that toys with its audience and delivers them a tense intellectual workout. Diving into themes of reality, obsession, choice, and free will, Don’t Worry Darling is a film with multiple sides to its narrative and audiences will not be expecting the twists and turns that this picture takes.
Don’t Worry Darling is a classic puzzle box thriller complete with multiple layers and Wilde unravels them with a deliberate intensity that builds in its exhilaration. Contrasting the veneer of perfection with dark and serious secrets, audiences will be caught off guard by her misdirections as a filmmaker and it all leads to one hell of a punch in the end. Wilde also asks a lot of questions of her audience, and I found myself thinking about this film’s characters and their motivations throughout the picture. Don’t Worry Darling has a terrific intellectual subtext to it and there are plenty of interesting ideas that are posed to the audience as this narrative unfurls before them.
As a visual spectacle, Don’t Worry Darling is gorgeous to look upon thanks to the combination of cinematography, production design and costuming. Debonair and glamourous in its presentation, the company town of Victory is a perfect picture of 1950s suburbia, which with its modernist architecture and richly coloured pastel hues is the ideal setting for this narrative to unfold in. Captured in crisp detail by noted cinematographer Matthew Libatique, the setting of Don’t Worry Darling could best be described as ‘manicured’ and this lavish Palm Springs environment bears much influence on the story.
Then there’s the costuming of the picture, courtesy of talented designer Arianne Phillips who styles the picture with a rich combination of colour, fabric and texture and paints the perfect picture of 1950s Hollywood glamour. With their flowing circle skirts and elegant evening wear, the women of Don’t Worry Darling are dressed with a perfect feminine pin-up elegance, while the men are decked out in groovy tennis shirts, chinos and tightly tailored suits that evoke a sense of daring masculine energy. Phillps’ work in costuming is not only gorgeous to look upon, but helps add to the tone and mood of the story and Don’t Worry Darling is without a doubt one of the most stylish films of the entire year.
Standing front and centre in the middle of Don’t Worry Darling is rising star Florence Pugh who fully steps into the role of a Hollywood leading lady with her turn as the film’s protagonist Alice Chambers. And this film belongs to her. Starting off as the perfect housewife, Pugh’s Alice is blissfully in love with her handsome young husband Jack (Harry Styles) and seems to have it all. But when things start to go astray, an unsettling feeling arises in Alice, and soon she’s in a literal waking nightmare. Pugh taps into the role of the classic Hitchcockian blonde in Don’t Worry Darling, and she’s adept at playing this character who is taken to the edge of madness. She completely disappears into this character, her intensity and focus in the part make a big impression on audiences, and this performance solidifies her as an A-list talent to keep an eye on.
Wrapping his arms around Pugh, both in the figurative and metaphorical sense is Harry Styles as her doting and handsome husband Jack, and Don’t Worry Darling is a full-on u-turn for the pop star turned thespian. With his classic good looks, Styles cuts a very dashing figure as Alice’s perfect husband who’s almost too good to be true. And oh does Jack have his secrets. Delivering a performance that can best be described as two-faced, Styles changes things up as Jack and audiences won’t expect the revelations and actions that his character delivers or the fierceness that they’re presented with.
Finally bringing Don’t Worry Darling full circle is Chris Pine as the charming and capable Frank, Jack’s charismatic boss and mentor who is not all who he seems to be and who engages in a dangerous battle of wills with Pugh’s Alice. Pine approaches the role of Frank with a kind of ‘cat who ate the canary’ quality, and there’s a certain cat-like grace to his performance. Possessed of both perfect polish and action-man swagger, Frank is a man who commands tremendous power and adulation in the seemingly perfect town of Victory and Pine’s performance as Frank makes for a worthy antagonist for Pugh’s Alice to contend with.
Don’t Worry Darling sizzles with kinetic energy, and its mix of puzzle box narrative and vintage glamour is a wonderful treat for audiences. Wilde’s film also contains a ravenous passion for its storytelling, and there’s a hot and sweaty sexuality that adds to the edginess of the narrative, and your heart will start to race when things get steamy. But Wilde’s focus is never gratuitous, and every action of this film feeds into its narrative exploration of ideas of control, reality, and free will, with Don’t Worry Darling asking many curious questions of its audience.
With its classic Hitchcockian thrills, glamourous style, and intense lead performances, Don’t Worry Darling is a film that will take audiences by surprise, and it offers up a very cerebral and frantic cinematic experience.
Image: Warner Brothers Pictures