A film wrapped in drama, revenge and complicated relationships. No, I am not talking about the behind-the-scenes chaos that was the production of Don’t worry darling.
For the past couple of weeks, especially with the massive publicity that comes with events such as the 2022 Venice Film Festival, Twitter could not get enough from all the alleged drama surrounding the production of Olivia Wilde’s second directorial endeavour.
From false claims and leaked videos to actors allegedly spitting on each other, this film made a name for itself even before its release. As the opening date came closer and closer, it was difficult to picture what the reaction to the film would be. Would people be able to separate all this real-life drama from the screen drama?
All of these questions kept popping up in my head when I got a chance to go watch a preview screening of the film at Clapham Picturehouse. So, without a moment’s hesitation, I grabbed my notebook and ran to the cinema.
Don´t worry darling by Olivia Wilde
However, before I go into how the screening went, I believe it is essential that we first talk about who Olivia Wilde is as a director (no drama, for now, calm down!). As previously said, this is Wilde’s second attempt at directing, her first project being the 2019 teen comedy Booksmart, starring Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever.
The movie follows Molly and Amy, two self-declared nerds who find out on the last day of school that all of their “loser” friends are going to prestige universities, just like both of them, and they didn’t have to miss out on the fun as Molly and Amy did. So, on that night, they decided to have all the fun they didn’t have through High School. Let’s say things don’t go as planned.
I personally really enjoyed Booksmart. The main characters feel like real friends, the comedy is grounded on character – which allows for more absurd scenarios to not feel out of place – and it leaves you with a good feeling after the credits start rolling. Or maybe I identify too much with the two main characters.
Regardless, the film garnered a really good score in places like Rotten Tomatoes, both with critics and audiences. It was fair to say Wilde had a great reception on her debut project.
Therefore, it was no surprise that when it was announced that she was to direct a second feature film, people were interested. Even more interesting was the fact this was a thriller, starring big names like Florence Pugh, Chris Pine and… Harry Styles?
As the cast became public, all the drama and confusion started to surface. Personally, what really intrigued me was: will Harry be able to hold himself alongside people like Pugh? Well, there was only one way to find out.
As I walked into the cinema, the first thing I heard was the employees discussing all the drama surrounding the film. Who hates who, who cheated on who, who spat on who and they could not hold a smile when I asked for my ticket to watch Don’t worry darling.
As I make my way to roll B, seat number 10, I walk past a diverse group of people. Young teens, probably Harry Styles fans, alt cinema lovers – who were there Florence Pugh – and people who simply wanted to watch a fun thriller.
It doesn’t take long for the lights to go down and we are introduced to Alice (Florence Pugh) and Jack (Harry Styles) a young, always on-the-honeymoon phase, couple.
They are the poster children of the 1950s ideal: well-off husband, pretty and domestic wife, no trouble whatsoever.
As the story unfolds, we discover that they live in a place called Victory, which seems to be a nuclear town, meaning: all the husbands work making nuclear weapons and all the wives spend their days cooking, shopping and taking ballet lessons. But of course, no one talks about what the husbands are doing during work.
It doesn’t take long for strange things to start to take place. A song stuck to Alice’s head, eggs that are just empty shells, strange visions, but the worst of them all is Margaret. A neighbour and former friend, who after walking into the desert and snooping around Victory’s headquarters, started to act and say odd things. Alice and Margaret are close, but Alice has started to distance herself, afraid of social chastising.
One day, Alice witnesses a plane crash in the desert and after everyone refuses to go and check what happened, she decides to do it herself. Once there, Alice stumbles upon headquarters and is subjected to a sequence of apparently nonsensical visions and behaviours.
In the following days, these visions and actions grow exponentially, culminating in Alice witnessing the tragic suicide of Margaret. It is after this moment that Alice knows something is not right about Victory.
Alright, we reached the spoiler point – consider yourself warned!
After trying to talk about what happened to Margaret and her friends, Alice is told off and gaslighted into believing Margaret has not committed suicide. Alice is not satisfied with these answers and starts to investigate the situation herself, stumbling upon evidence that the Victory Project is not what they say they are. All along, snippets of what appear to be memories flood her mind, but she can never really pinpoint where they come from.
Eventually, Frank (Chris Pine), the leader of the company (cult), admits to Alice that her suspicions are correct but that no one will ever believe her. After that, Jack snitches on Alice and the Victory henchman on her way to quick electroshock treatment.
Alice returns, apparently cured. However, when Jack starts to sing the song that has been stuck in her head throughout the whole film, all memories crush her like a wave.
Alice and Jack are a modern-day couple, she is a doctor and he is recently unemployed. With money problems and daily life stresses, they became distant and bitter. Jack, tired of feeling useless and rejected, finds an online program called Victory Project. A virtual reality created by Frank, where all people live the ideal – and correct – life. There’s only one catch, in order to live in this world, Jack has taken Alice hostage and forced her to exist in this vertical world 24/7.
After finding that out, Alice takes dangerous measures by killing Jack (if the men die in the simulation, they die in the real world) and making an escape toward headquarters. A chase scene ensues, but eventually, Alice reaches the place, the screen cuts to fragments of her dancing in the real world, the screen cuts to black and we hear Alice gasping for air, as she wakes up in the real world.
Alright, where should I start?
The Sci-Fi genre is no stranger to convoluted plots and over-explanatory dialogue. After all, I could not stop myself from asking what only the men die if they get killed in the simulation. Or why are people stating things that have already been established? Those are definitely some of the issues with the film, these types of question mark moments are constant enough, to make all the fun WTF moments – Florence Pugh gets crushed by a wall, that is suddenly not there anymore – to be less effective. A lot of it could have been trimmed out from the story and it would have allowed for a more powerful impact from the directing.
However, that is not the bigger issue at hand with the film. Unfortunately, my initial fear of what would happen to Harry when acting beside Florence became true. With a stellar performance, Pugh saturates the screen with nuance and emotion, making it impossible to look away from her (nothing new here, I guess). Sadly for Harry, her power contrast with his lack of conviction. He struggles to get to the emotions and leans into some freshmen year on drama school choices.
I honestly believe that he is not a bad actor. However, casting him in a lead role against one of the biggest names in the business right now was unfair. Maybe with some more experience and confidence in his chops.
Regardless of all the drama, this film shows a certain improvement in Olivia Wile’s direction. A lot more confident in style and how to handle tone and actors, the movie feels very much like a movie (meaning, you want to watch it on a big screen). However, some of her weaknesses, especially regarding structuring and editing, still need to be worked on.
Regardless of all the drama, if you enjoy crazy, mind-bending and emotionally charged thrillers, you should go and check out Don’t worry darling in cinemas!
About the author
With an MA in Filmmaking, Livia spends her time either making films or writing about them. She has contributed to independent publications and has her own blog, focusing on the horror genre, LGBTIA+ and feminist issues.