When Olivia Wildes’s directorial debut Booksmart was released into the world it was the exact sort of thing gleamed onto by a very specific stripe of film Twitter pundits. They saw it as some variety of revelation. Thats despite it being nothing more then your standard teen comedy just from a female perspective. It was decidedly above average for its genre with two breakout performances from Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein but nothing that will rock anyone’s would. Even with that film’s underperformance at the box office creatives and studio heads at least initially saw something in Wildes’s direction to give her a notably bigger production for her second feature.
In Don’t Worry Darling. Florence Pugh and Harry Styles play an idealised 1950s suburban couple whose lives may not be all they appear. The drama related to the film’s production has been thoroughly picked over by every major gossip outlet one would expect to cover a story of its potential magnitude. This writer had been following it with the level of bemused interest as someone who thought Booksmart was largely very overrated, to begin with. That said the finished film did deserve a chance regardless of all the rumours and conflict surrounding it. Did it deliver when given said opportunity?
No. This author would contest that the discourse within the film marketing rollout and release has propped up a final product that beyond a very glossy surface is the very definition of blandly mediocre. Whatever the vestige of truth regarding what went on behind the scenes here the final product suggests that at least initially Wilde had the resources to call in the best behind-the-camera talent available. The drama simultaneously looks impressively cinematic. It counterproductively feels distinctly over-stylised to within an inch of its life. It was designed for high-spec theatrical presentation which is not often the case with this variety of mid-level drama/thriller fare. No doubt there will be plenty of people arguing that we as a film-watching public should be going out and supporting theatrical exclusivity for a broader range of movies. Espasacly for that has mostly pivoted to streaming in 2022. Not when its the derivative,
From a content and performance perspective, Florence Pugh is acting circles around every other cast member in the central role. She elevates the decidedly mediocre material into something mildly compelling She can give the threadbare script some level of gravitas it decidedly doesn’t deserve. Enough to see the narrative play out to a resolution. The problem is that those that have seen enough material within this brand of psychological thriller/drama will watch the price go through the motions wondering which variant of the resolution the creative team went with. Especially in an age where two excellent examples of this subgenre in the streaming TV space have been nominated for a total of 37 Emmys between them over the last two years. The fact that one of them comes from Marvel Studios will automatically disqualify it in the heads of some viewers but that’s their problem. By the time Don’t Worry Darling Meanders towards a conclusion it answers the prospect of which ending it’s going with some variation of all of them and the final results are genuinely embarrassing. It’s safe to say that Alex Garland may not have made the worst toxic masculinity movie of 2022. The ironic thing being the one element “Men” gets right is the admittedly wild ending sequence. This is not even mentioning Harry Styles’s performance which is better than some watching me think but enters the realm of embarrassment any time he has to overact or deliver any kind of, massively emotive dialogue. There’s also a wide variety of hugely pretentious insert shorts that come across like everyone involved here really thought they were making the next Black Swan. They were not. The three teenagers who whooped with paroxysms of joy at the mere appearance of Harry Styles on-screen credit as this viewer left his screening won’t care though.
It would be very easy for this writer to relish in Don’t Worry Darling’s failures as someone who thought Olivia Wilde’s directorial prospects were massively overstated, to begin with. That said this is giving the film deviled more brain space than it deserves. Much there are bright spots this is the kind of over-stylised but threadbare thriller the discerning viewers will have seen plenty of before and will go on to exist long after Don’t Worry Darling is a vague footnote exclusively for the production drama. Much as there are bright spots the narrative’s lack of anything majorly interesting from a content perspective combined with a genuinely terrible final act makes the whole thing feel a bit pointless. Unless one likes this specific brand of psychological thriller or is interested in what earth the final product looks like given over behind the scene reporting viewers’ time would be much better spent elsewhere.