If you haven’t heard about Don’t Worry Darling, where have you been? Almost certainly the most-talked about movie of 2022, director Olivia Wilde’s sexy psycho-thriller first hit the headlines after Shia LaBeouf exited under a cloud in 2020. Then it hit them again when Harry Styles, Wilde’s now boyfriend, was cast as his replacement. Fast-forward to September 2022, and a PR disaster at Venice Film festival revolving around Wilde’s alleged feud with lead actress Florence Pugh; a viral video in which Styles seemingly spits on co-star Chris Pine; and Wilde’s ongoing public beef with LaBeouf (LaBeef, if you will) have piled on yet more scandal. How can Don’t Worry Darling’s on-screen drama ever top what’s happened off it?
Well, it has a good go. We kick off in utopian 1950s suburb Victory – the gated community for a mysterious company of the same name that a few hundred lucky employees live in. We’re talking white picket fences, well-trimmed lawns and a lot of brown or yellow pool furniture. You know, your racist grandma’s dream neighbourhood. Every morning, the suited-and-booted husbands kiss their wives goodbye, climb into pristine old-timey sports cars and pootle off in convoy to the office. While they’re there, doing who-knows-what, the women cook, clean and chat to each other about who’s hosting the next dinner party. Everyone is content. Everyone knows their place. But when Alice Chambers (Pugh) starts noticing dodgy stuff – like her pal Margaret slitting her own throat and diving off the roof – trouble starts a-brewing. What follows is her slow, strange descent into a surrealist, domestic hell that, despite multiple attempts, Alice can’t seem to escape.
Just like the lives of its characters, Don’t Worry Darling has two distinct sides to it. There’s the happy, loved-up bliss of young, monied couples like the Chambers – which Wilde portrays by having Alice and Jack (Styles) shag in as many unusual places as possible (across tables, in the boss’s bedroom, on top of their dinner). And there’s the other side. The one that has Alice run screaming into the desert after hallucinating a friend repeatedly smash her head against a mirror. Pugh is really good at both bits. Bubbly and excitable one minute, an anxious mess the next, she more than makes up for Styles’ weird transatlantic accent. His acting isn’t as wooden as those out-of-context Twitter clips suggest, but it’s not far off. Elsewhere, Chris Pine plays Jack, the deliciously sinister head of Victory; Gemma Chan steals several scenes as his wife, providing a suitably British stiff upper lip for Pugh to bounce off at work functions; and Wilde pops up to play Alice’s closest confidante with a tragic past. All of the performances are bolstered by a smooth, soulful soundtrack that’s stuffed with contemporary R&B hits from the likes of Ray Charles, Brenton Wood and Irma Thomas.
It is, admittedly, quite hard to watch Don’t Worry Darling and not think about the accompanying gossip. Do Pugh and Wilde look like they hate each other? How would LaBeouf have played Jack? Should you spit on the person next to you? Well, maybe not that last one. What we’re trying to say is a really quite good film has been overshadowed needlessly. And that’s a real shame.
- Director: Olivia Wilde
- Starring: Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Chris Pine
- Release date: September 23 (in cinemas)