‘Don’t Worry Darling’ Review: Girlboss Thriller Olivia Wilde When It Should Be Suck-Punched

'Don't Worry Darling' Review: Girlboss Thriller Olivia Wilde When It Should Be Suck-Punched

Let’s pretend you’re not terminally online. Now let’s also add a setting that you only care about “Oscar movies” after the nominations have already been announced and have no preconception of film festival rollouts or campaigning for six months to win a trophy. Okay, now we can proceed with talking accurately (and not hysterically) about Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling, a new thriller starring Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, and Chris Pine.

Pugh plays Alice, a housewife in an idyllic Palm Springs-looking suburb where everyone drinks all night, and Alice and Jack (Styles) are perpetual honeymooners, always in the throes of passion. The cars and attire are straight from the 1950s and so are the gender roles and etiquette. In this community of 72 residents (and expanding!) the men work top secret jobs in the desert, all driving to work at the same time—straight into the desert on unpaved roads to a landing atop a hill. And if their wife asks what they do, a simple “you wouldn’t understand” or immediate oral sex—after walking in the front door after a hard day of who-knows-what—would suffice as an answer.

Pine is the architect of the community. He also hosts a one-hour radio show that’s broadcast into every home, specifically aimed at the wives who reside in Victory. The women do the housecleaning, cooking, and shop with ease. They simply shout “I’ll take it!” when presented with an object in a showing room, and it gets charged to a company account.

Wilde, herself, plays Pugh’s best friend in Victory, whose husband (Nick Kroll) just got a promotion that came with a pinky ring blessed by Pine. And Gemma Chan appears as Pine’s supportive wife and dance instructor to the housewives, she teaches them not just to dance but a refrain about staying in line. Of course, nothing is as it seems. Once Alice sees (or maybe hallucinates) a plane crash in the mountains, followed by a suicide atop one of the beautiful homes, she starts to ask questions. And Pine’s personality essentially steps in to say, “debate me.”

Any more info than that will give away too much. Though Don’t Worry Darling isn’t so much a twisty movie as it is a withholding movie. Which is somewhat fair because whatever is happening comes via obvious gaslighting. But it’s also a bit of a cop-out. The third act reveal might have actually better served the movie to come earlier in the second act to explain more of the ins and outs between Alice and Jack. And it would also clear up certain bad faith readings on the film you might find if you Google an explanation.

Pause. Let’s move back to where the audience of this is not terminally online. While most of the interesting discussion of Don’t Worry Darling will concern the reveal of what’s really going on, without spoiling that, let me get to what I think works and doesn’t work. First, none of Darling works at all without such a committed performance from Pugh. She brings it her all like she’s in an old-fashioned Hitchcockian thriller (except with orgasms instead of innuendo!). She’s alluring, panicked, frightened, disillusioned, and yassified. Whether or not you think that the movie works or doesn’t, there’s no world in which this works better without her and any carbon copy movie with another actress probably fares worse. Pine, too, understands the assignment, though he has less to play with. There’s a better version of Darling that includes more backstory for him that really drives home the “Whose time is it? Our time!” refrain he has with Styles. Continuing some wins, the costumes and production design are a mid-century catalog that you’d want to yell “I’d take it!” on cloud credit, too. And Matthew Libatique mixes different types of photography to great effect—from Busby Berkeley legs, to vanity mirrors, to desert-dust kickups.

Simply put, it’s a fun movie to look at and Wilde, Pugh, and Pine are all able to significantly string intrigue. But it is lacking in a complete experience because it holds its cards a little too long, while treading some familiar territory in the lead-up. This is a softer Black Mirror update of The Stepford Wives, but what does make it modern could use a little earlier attention, especially in regards to the men in Victory. For all the press quotes that are out there to help us along, Darling is actually too gun-shy at looking directly at modern toxic masculinity. It’s more comfortable in the 50s mold. Perhaps this is to spare Styles’ heartthrob status, but you can tell that Pine would be willing to go anywhere that is required in this world. And it’s too bad he doesn’t get to go deeper. Perhaps this is because the 50s style is so intoxicating, the desire to actually peer into the ugliness was more muted than it should be.

Don’t Worry Darling is best as a surface-level matinée thriller with a few follow-up ahas. But it doesn’t sting like it should in the end. Darling chooses to girlboss when it could’ve sucker punched. But it’s still way more watchable than many terminally online people already believe it to be.