I wish “Don’t Worry Darling” was worse.
When a film’s entire production is plagued by unsavory gossip and rumors of infidelity between the director and star, you expect the end result to be a fascinating trainwreck. As it stands, “Don’t Worry Darling” is a middle-of-the-road psychological thriller that doesn’t do anything you haven’t seen done better many times before.
If the movie was awful, it would at least be interesting.
The premise reads like a C-tier “Black Mirror” episode but offers a promising setup: Young couple Alice (Florence Pugh) and Jack Chambers (Harry Styles) live in an idyllic town called Victory in the 1950s. Every night, they go to elaborate parties with friends then the husbands all drive off in the morning to work in a large structure in the middle of the desert. The wives stay at home all day cooking, cleaning, shopping and occasionally sipping drinks by the pool.
However, Alice begins noticing little idiosyncrasies (eggs with nothing in them, a ripple in the sky as a plane flies by, strange visions in her dreams, etc.) that she tries to ignore until her friend Margeret (KiKi Layne) does something drastic, and the men around her gaslight her about what really happened.
Again, the setup and ideas director Olivia Wilde (“Booksmart”) presents are a solid starting point. A thriller about the ways men mistreat women with a subtly creepy, 1950s sheen sounds like a movie that’s perfect for today’s social climate in the same way “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Alien” were brilliant reflections of the late-1960s and 1970s respectively.
The problem is Wilde is working from an underbaked script by writers Katie Silberman, Carey Van Dyke and Shane Van Dyke that only flirts with saying something meaningful. The core thematic idea is this: when women aren’t doing what men want them to do, men develop elaborate schemes to take back a perceived loss of control.
There’s really nothing provocative about stating the obvious. We’re all aware of the problems that plague our society. The best movies take those problems and present them in a novel or cathartic way that helps us understand ourselves and the world we live in better.
Thrillers are especially effective in this regard because they’re free to operate in the darker side of life without reservations. Great thrillers about social issues such as “Get Out” or “Gone Girl” either reflect a nuanced and uncomfortable truth back at the audience or dig deep into their main characters’ warped psyches.
In contrast, “Don’t Worry Darling” goes right up to the edge of presenting a thought-provoking take on modern cultural norms between men and women before flinching at the last second.
Also, Chris Pine (“Star Trek,” “Wonder Woman”) and Gemma Chan (“Raya and the Last Dragon,” “Eternals”) are in the movie playing Frank, Victory’s mysterious leader, and his wife Shelley. They both shine in the few scenes they’re in but aren’t given enough to do. Chan’s character especially is underdeveloped. Pine and Chan, alongside Pugh, deserved a better movie to showcase their talents instead of being given one-note characters to play.
Comedians Nick Kroll (“Kroll Show,” Oh, Hello”), Timothy Simons (“Veep”) Kate Berlant (“Sorry to Bother You,” “A League of Their Own”) round out the supporting cast and are unfortunately underutilized as well. Neither of them is menacing enough to sell the paranoid tone Wilde is going for, so I was left wishing the movie was a dark comedy since the supporting cast to make that work is already present.
Ultimately, “Don’t Worry Darling” shows you themes and images you’ve seen numerous times in more well-made movies without building on them to present a new take tailored for today.