‘Don’t Worry Darling’ has an underwhelming, lackluster plot

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Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Harry Styles and Florence Pugh star in the film ‘Don’t Worry Darling.’

Naomi Scissors, Arts Writer

“Don’t Worry Darling” is a visually stunning film, but its beauty is not enough to bolster a lifeless, sometimes nonsensical plot. Director Olivia Wilde, known for her directorial debut Booksmart, shows her skill in well-crafted, shocking moments that deliver on the film’s promise of a thriller, but the storyline itself feels like a rough draft. The production design is stellar, and Florence Pugh delivers a brilliant performance as strong-willed Alice. However, audiences are likely to be left unsatisfied by a plot that falls apart under any form of scrutiny.

The film follows Jack and Alice, played by Harry Styles and Florence Pugh respectively, a young couple living in an idyllic 1950s American town called Victory. The women all stay home and tend to their households, and the men all work for the same company that is ostensibly tasked with something secret and extremely important. But it quickly becomes apparent that things in Victory are not as they seem. Pugh and Styles are believable enough as the young, enamored leads, but it is clear why Styles is renowned for his singing and not his acting, especially when contrasted with Pugh’s nuanced performance. Styles stumbles through the film without ruining the illusion, but at most times he comes across as Harry Styles pretending to be a character rather than the character himself.

Chris Pine and Gemma Chan give strong performances as Frank and Shelley, the man that founded the Victory empire and his wife. They provide the eerie charisma necessary to build a creeping sensation throughout the film, that something is not quite right in this seemingly utopian town. The problem is that this feeling does not go anywhere until the final half hour of the film’s two hour run. 

The moments shown in trailers and teasers follow an undoubtedly effective formula. Take a symbol of banal suburban life, such as morning eggs or washing windows, tweak a small element to give it an unsettling feel, and let Pugh’s acting sell the rest. It works, and Pugh performs with the same brilliant subtlety that made “Midsommar” successful, but while these moments may be perfect for an interesting teaser, they cannot form an entire film by themselves. The majority of the film is a plotless mash of interesting visuals and creepy montages, and when the reveal finally comes at the end it fails to justify many of the strange happenings that occur throughout the movie. The result is a film that feels like a stranded first act with no explanations and no second act to offer a resolution for its characters.

The little plot the film does have is nothing new. Audiences are no longer impressed by a suburban utopia with a dark twist, darkness has come to be expected wherever there is aggressive happiness and Americana, so there is nothing interesting about Wilde’s reveal that life in Victory is not as perfect as it seems. Cliche, of course, does not ruin the plot of a film. It is nearly impossible to make a film without copying something that has already been done. However, the film offers very little of its own to the mix. There is nothing distinguishing the film from being a too-long episode of “Black Mirror,” a less scary “The Village,” or a less insightful “Stepford Wives.” It does not improve on a known concept, rather, it packages something entirely unoriginal in a shiny new celebrity-studded package. 

“Don’t Worry Darling” is a fun watch, and it may be enough to satisfy Styles superfans, but it does not hold up as the societal critique it attempts to be. The myriad of celebrity drama that surrounds the film is sure to draw some to the theater, but the film’s underwhelming box office performance shows that audiences are still expecting more from a film than gossip and name recognition. Wilde is undoubtedly talented, and perhaps with her second feature film under her belt she will bring the artistry she brought to “Booksmart” to her next project.