We’re Worried Darling
Issue 3, Volume 113
It’s a sunny day in Victory, California. Couple Alice (Florence Pugh) and Jack Chambers (Harry Styles) are living the dream—at least, their dream. After Alice makes a sandwich for her husband to take to work, she begins sealing up the remaining ingredients with plastic wrap: lettuce, tomatoes, and turkey. She then wraps her own face, with her breathing turning shallow until she realizes what she’s doing. We start worrying, darling.
“Don’t Worry Darling” is an archetypal psychological thriller that follows the lives of Alice Chambers and her husband Jack. They live in the meticulously curated Victory, California, a company town for the Victory Project led by Frank (Chris Pine). Everything seems to be perfect: Jack is the breadwinner and works for the Victory Project, while Alice is the typical ’50s housewife, providing for her home and indulging in activities that satisfy her. But after another housewife, Margaret (KiKi Layne), has a supposed “psychotic break” and spews anti-Victory Project sentiments, Alice’s reality begins to shatter and break. As she slowly realizes that not everything is as it seems in the Victory Project, viewers also discover that this town is too perfect to be real.
They say don’t judge a book by its cover, and the same somewhat applies to this film. The movie's 38 percent on Rotten Tomatoes juxtaposed with its 17 minute standing ovation during its screening at the Venice Film Festival left many uncertain about what to expect from the film. Overall, “Don’t Worry Darling” deserves some credit. The cinematography is quite nice—cinematographer Matthew Libatique expertly weaves intense, close-up shots of Alice and Jack’s heated arguments, with lively, jubilant jazz tunes fit for a Great Gatsby-esque party scene (circa 2013). There is an emphasis on a recurring circle motif through the cinematographic choices, such as the image of a picture-perfect cul-de-sac with white picket fence houses.
The costume design is also incredibly effective in establishing tone shifts during the film. Designer Arianne Phillips juxtaposes the vibrant, colorful poodle skirts and crisp tuxedos of the ’50s with growing tensions that tease a possible coup of Victory ideals. Though some pieces and moments are not necessarily period-specific, the inconsistencies are purposeful: Alice wearing nothing but Jack’s shirt while sending him off to work fits into their “honeymoon couple” narrative.
Arguably, a good soundtrack can elevate a film to the next level, and composer John Powell undoubtedly delivers. The different scores contribute to the pace of the movie, making the film more immersive. Music is one of the most important elements in “Don’t Worry Darling,” as one of the moments that foreshadows the collapse of the Victory Project is when Alice begins humming a simple five-note melody that she cannot place the origin of. This plotline would not have been possible without the stellar soundtrack to complement it.
However, “Don’t Worry Darling” is far from perfect. While Florence Pugh’s performance as Alice is powerful and evocative, Harry Styles’s novice take on Jack is stiff and unrealistic. It seems almost unfair to put such a strong leading actress opposite an actor with such limited experience. The cast as a whole is indeed star-studded: Chris Pine, Gemma Chan, Nick Kroll, and Olivia Wilde, who also directed the film, fill the ranks of this movie. Though their performances were well-rounded and a true embodiment of the characters they portrayed, when the leading man can’t perform well, it sours the whole production.
Additionally, the plot of “Don’t Worry Darling” is not only a repetitive science fiction cliche that resembles the dystopian classic “The Giver” (2014), but it also leaves the audience scrambling for more, and not in a good way. There are too many unanswered questions, which leaves the movie feeling somewhat incomplete. Though cliffhangers can be addictive, they can also be unsatisfying if not executed well.
Most unattractively, “Don’t Worry Darling” was the center of much gossip and drama, which tainted its reputation as a serious film. From Harry Styles and Olivia Wilde’s potentially PR romance to Florence Pugh feeling very uncomfortable on set, the anticipation for this film became less about the film itself and more about possible tensions between the actors. Watching this film with everything that went on behind the scenes can be distracting, but once the beginning scenes start rolling, the drama moves to the side, allowing you to enjoy the film to its fullest.
“Don’t Worry Darling” exemplifies some of the classic dystopian dilemmas: what lies beyond the borders of the secluded enclave, and what do those in power know that we don’t? Though the film suffers from casting flaws and a lackluster plot, the cinematography, costume design, and soundtrack assuage some of the movie’s deficiencies. Though not necessarily an award-winning film, “Don’t Worry Darling” interrupts the recent influx of biopics and horror movies and is refreshing to watch. Harry Styles put it best at the 2022 Venice Film Festival: “You know, my favorite thing about the movie is, like, it feels like a movie.”