Amidst a series of sensationalised tabloid rumours that led to a much-talked-about premiere, the anticipation around Olivia Wilde’s latest film has been rife. Following on from her acclaimed debut Booksmart, she’s back in the director’s chair for psychological thriller Don’t Worry Darling. Florence Pugh stars as mid-century housewife Alice who enjoys steamy marital bliss with Jack (Harry Styles) in suburban company town Victory, California. After a few red flags, she becomes suspicious of the community around her, in particular of her husband’s mysterious boss Frank (Chris Pine), and soon their idyllic existence is called into question.
With exquisite production detail, brightly coloured costumes, and striking, sun-bleached cinematography, Wilde crafts her Palm Springs picture with a strong vision. Early hints suggest that something is off with this polished American Dream aesthetic; the grass is perhaps a little too green, the picket-fences too white, the residents are picture perfect figures dropped into a toy town brought to life.
Matthew Libatique’s camera swoops and swirls to give a growing sense of unease, and it’ll come as no surprise to learn that the DP’s previous work include Aronofsky’s mother! and Black Swan, both of which trace the downward spiral of their female protagonists. This narrative has pretty obvious touchstones such as The Stepford Wives and The Truman Show so there’s a distinct lack of subtlety and originality in the screenplay penned by Katie Silberman, and yet there’s a hypnotic grandeur in watching Alice fall down the rabbit hole of this gaslit fairytale. Wilde brings a contemporariness to the story’s conversations around gender roles within evolving societal expectations, and smartly illustrates that if things seem too good to be true, they usually are.
His acting career is still very much in its infancy, but this is by far Harry Styles’ biggest part to date. Next to his accomplished co-star, even the most terrific performers might be made to look ordinary, but his mix of suave confidence and boyish charm carry him through this aspirational Bond-with-a-briefcase portrayal. There are snippets of greatness from the impressive ensemble Wilde has pulled together; goofy humour from Kroll, a reptilian menace from Pine, and a commanding bravado from Wilde who gives herself an interesting supporting role to play. Of course, the magnetic presence of Florence Pugh helps elevate the material in its most well-worn sections. Recapturing the anxiety-ridden dread from her turn in folk-horror Midsommar, this time she combines it with a film star gravitas which works well alongside the slick Mad Men-esque energy.
‘My favourite thing about the movie is, like, it feels like a movie’ said Styles in a now memefied Venice press interview. While Olivia Wilde’s stylish sophomore feature Don’t Worry Darling might feel like an updated version of a movie we’ve seen before, there’s enough quality in Florence Pugh’s magnificent central performance that it seals victory within its plastic-wrapped sheen.