Don’t worry about seeing this. Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling works best when viewed as an exercise in the boundaries of the filmmaking apparatus; unfortunately it shows little concern for the art of plotting, and is overstuffed with metaphors and analogies that ultimately struggle to tell a compelling story. Clearly it’s striving to be a Stepford Wives, but lacks the nuance of what makes the original (and the remake to an extent) excellent films with a degree of horror-adjacency. Don’t Worry Darling is certainly unsettling and delivers an overwhelming sense of dread despite the idyllic atmosphere, but the writing is not up to the degree of excellency as are the visual elements of the film. Wilde certainly has a keen eye for shot composition and knows the capabilities of editing; but for all its trappings, the film will leave audiences wondering what they watched and why should they care.
Don’t Worry Darling is a 2022 American psychological thriller film directed by Olivia Wilde from a screenplay by Katie Silberman, based on a story by Carey Van Dyke, Shane Van Dyke, and Silberman. The film stars Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Wilde, Gemma Chan, KiKi Layne, Nick Kroll, and Chris Pine.
From a design perspective, the film is stunning! I absolutely loved everything about the romanticized 1960s aesthetic from the women’s fashion to the colors to the music, houses, and cars. Unfortunately, the brilliantly crafted set and production design are not enough to makeup for the lethargic pacing and poor plotting. It takes more than an hour before anything of measurable consequence significantly affects the story. Although the pacing quickens in the latter part of the second act and through the third, the showdown is riddled with convenient–nearly deus ex machina, plot devices–and simply unbelievable character actions that aren’t properly setup.
The performative element of the mise-en-scene is demonstrably lackluster as well. While Florence Pugh delivers a solid, believable performance, Harry Styles is acting to the back of the room and Chris Pine is clearly phoning-in his performance. With his background as a music entertainer, perhaps Styles is better suited for the Broadway stage than he is the silver screen. The film contains some interesting montage, but many of the stylistic editing choices do not pay off dramatically and I’m left to interpret them as an exercise in film assembly. But, the scenes right out of Footlight Parade were a nice touch.
Don’t Worry Darling is another example of a film wherein a writer-director may have benefitted from taking their idea and giving it to a different screenwriter in order to develop into a motion picture that not only has an outstanding look, but thoughtful storytelling as well. Wilde certainly has a message that she is communicating to audiences, but it’s more of a message better suited for the era depicted in the film than in the era in which we live. Often times, what audiences desire is a good story with a great outside-action plot. And if a writer and/or director can add depth of theme through subplots and subtext, then that’s how you create something more thoughtful–not making the message the A-story.
Ryan teaches Film Studies and Screenwriting at the University of Tampa and is a member of the Critics Association of Central Florida. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter. If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.
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