Don’t Worry Darling Review: Harry Styles is lacking in charisma in Olivia Wilde’s chaotic sci-fi thriller

Directed by Olivia Wilde. Cast: Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Chris Pine, Olivia Wilde, Gemma Chan, KiKi Layne, Nick Kroll, Kate Berlant. 122 minutes

A morbid anticipation has long been spreading don’t worry darling, with the Olivia Wilde sci-fi thriller garnering large amounts of negative buzz in the run-up to its release. Her star Florence Pugh appeared to distance herself from the project amid rumors of a falling out between her and Wilde. Shia LaBeouf denied Wilde’s claims that he was fired from the production and released a video of the director seemingly proving his story. Gossip columnists were also upset about Wilde’s relationship with pop idol Harry Styles, who took over from LaBeouf. And that’s before we even got to “Spitgate” — or a viral, quickly controversial clip that appeared to show Styles spitting at his co-star Chris Pine at the film’s Venice premiere earlier this month. Of course he didn’t – and both parties denied that anything like that had happened – but it wasn’t surprising that people believed him, given the factual drama surrounding the film.

Eventually, don’t worry darling is not the catastrophe some have predicted – but it is a chaotic, muddled affair with some very elaborate plans. Styles gives a surprisingly blunt and weak performance as Jack. To be fair, he plays a very boring character, kind of like Stepford’s husband. Jack lives with his wife Alice (Pugh) in a gleaming, very affluent 1950’s community next to the desert and works with many other husbands who look and act exactly like him. The men are all collaborators in The Victory Project, a shadowy plan led by Frank (Pine) that seeks to “change the world.” Frank is a slim but sinister guru with voyeuristic tendencies who demands absolute obedience. Wilde plays Bunny, Alice’s glamorous neighbor and best friend.

While the men drive to work in their identical suits, the women stay at home. They take care of the kids (if they have any), vacuum and cook, and take dance classes. Everything in their consumer paradise feels synthetic. There’s a lot of drinking and sex, but even that lacks heart. In one scene, Jack attacks Alice as soon as he gets home from work; it’s reminiscent of the famously hot encounter between Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange on the kitchen table in When the postman rings twice. Here, however, the temperature hardly rises. Styles lacks charisma. Wilde includes a scene of his character dancing onstage after winning an Employee of the Month-style award, but he’s far less compelling than burlesque veteran Dita Von Teese, who has a cameo appearance performing an extravagant striptease. Jack is a one-dimensional character, and the One Direction star gives him no hidden depth. Pugh is easily the film’s liveliest and most compelling character. She plays Alice in such a fiery way that most of the other characters seem robotic in comparison.

Written by Katie Silberman (who co-wrote Wilde’s excellent feature debut book smart) seems equally inspired by Beautiful new world and Sylvia Plaths The bell jar. It has some spooky, intriguing elements, and Wilde adds spectacular visual flourishes, including Busby Berkeley-esque choruses and nightmare sequences in which Alice suspects she’s really losing her mind, as her peers would have her believe.

don’t worry darling is beautifully shot by cinematographer Matthew Libatique (known for his work on Darren Aronofsky’s films, including the director’s current Venice contender The whale). It has flawless production and costume design. Beneath its polished, very stylish exterior, however, it’s as hollow as the lives of its spoiled but empty-headed protagonists. You can easily understand why Alice is so desperate to get out of the community — and perhaps why certain cast members have been so wary of endorsing the film themselves.

In the utopian, misogynist, mad Men-like world conjured up by Silberman and Wilde, women are the roles of wives and mothers. They don’t work. And when they are unhappy with their lives, they are ostracized, treated as if they are mentally unstable, pumped on pills and treated with shock. They all live in a gilded cage, forbidden to express independent opinions or even venture too far from their own front door. Pugh’s Alice is far too single-minded to endure all these limitations. When she thinks she sees a plane crash in the mountains, she makes her way across the desert to offer help. This is where their problems begin. Friends turn against her. She is labeled as a troublemaker who asks too many questions. But what begins as a dystopian psychological thriller briefly (and absurdly) evolves into one Fast and Furious-style car chase in its final scenes. The plot also has a very odd framing device that might leave the viewer scratching their heads.

Don’t Worry Darling hits theaters September 23 Don’t Worry Darling Review: Harry Styles is lacking in charisma in Olivia Wilde’s chaotic sci-fi thriller


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