Billed as the most anticipated movie of the year, Don’t Worry Darling had all eyes on it from the start. Director Olivia Wilde assembled a star studded cast featuring Gemma Chan, Chris Pine, the queen of psychological thrillers Florence Pugh, and of course pop sensation Harry Styles. This film had all the pieces it needed to be a box office hit; Yet despite the star studded lineup, this movie could not get out of its own way.
The well known mantra, “No press is bad press” seemed pertinent as the film opened No.1 at the box office despite the whirlwind of controversy and drama surrounding its release. Viewers can expect a solid two hours of vibrant scenery, highly stylized 1950s costume design, and a powerful score that provide the backdrop for the utopian desert town of Victory. However, the impressive set design, stylization, and Oscar-worthy performance from Pugh are not enough save this sinking ship.
For her part, Florence Pugh does her best to hold the film together. In her role as Alice, the adoring housewife turned invigorated rebel, Pugh delivers a full body performance from the get-go. Alice becomes increasingly fervent in her desire to uncover the truth regarding the company her husband works for and the many town mysteries consistently swept under the rug. Pugh gives a physically graphic and emotionally disturbing delivery of Alice’s tantalizing descent into reality and does her best to evoke empathy from the audience. As Manohla Dargis states in her review for the New York Times, “If Pugh’s performance never gets beneath the shiny, satirical surface, it’s because there’s no place for it or her to go,” referencing the plot holes and distracting performance from her male co-star that casts a shadow over this film.
Styles portrays Jack Chambers, the seemingly charming and doting husband to Alice who is later revealed to have faked his wife's death and enslaved her within a virtual society that he has deemed to be better off for both of them. The character demands a level of cynicism and a nuanced performance to make the audience feel just as horrified and exploited as Alice does. Harry Styles is an international pop star that has made a name for himself first as a teen heart throb and then a charming icon known for his mantra of kindness and flamboyant style. No performance, no matter how impressive, can distract from the man behind the character.
A second pick for the role, the decision to cast Styles was no doubt made on the basis of the crowd pull his presence would bring. Rather than let the movie stand on its own merit and rely on talented actors or a well written script, it became a vessel for Harry Styles' foray into Hollywood (Dunkirk doesn’t really count). While he does his best to keep up with his highly acclaimed and experienced co-stars, he never fully disappears into the role of Jack Chambers. Pivotal moments for the character get lost in the spectacle of Harry Styles’ presence. Jack screams in distress, confusion, and disappointment as Alice is dragged away, while the audience watches their favorite pop singer scream and slam his fists against a steering wheel–the moment becomes comical. These scenes go from pivotal moments of emotion for the movie to a high value music video with an over qualified cast. Styles’ charm plays too heavily into the character and the sinister motives behind Jack’s disgusting actions get lost in the background.
In addition, Wilde fails to take advantage of the depth of talent she has sitting on the sidelines. Chan, Pine, and the film's other supporting actors take what little space they are given in the script and run with it. Pine wholeheartedly encapsulates the sinister optimism of society leader Frank, and brings life to the motives behind the Victory project. Chan, who plays Frank’s picture perfect wife, and Kiki Layne, who portrays the disillusioned Margaret, cover either end of the spectrum of participation in the society. However, despite stellar performances, their limited screen time leaves the characters feeling one sided and underdeveloped.
It is a shame to think of what this movie could have been had it been given a real shot as a psychological thriller rather than a dystopian romance featuring Hollywood’s favorites. Don’t Worry Darling does all it can to deliver its message of female empowerment, but the distracting performances and underdeveloped characters are too much to overcome. This is not a one time venture into the acting world for Harry Styles, with his next movie My Policeman set to release in just a couple weeks, but we have yet to see if this is just a blip in his career or another step towards becoming the Elvis of our generation.