September 26, 2022 

Teak furniture, Saarinen chairs, wood-paneled walls, shaggy carpets, and bulbous, tubed television sets. These are among the iconic midcentury set pieces comprising the visual aesthetic of Olivia Wilde’s second directorial feature, Don’t Worry Darling. While the aesthetic is a meticulous representation of its time, the film comes several decades too late to offer any insight, providing intrigue and visual appeal and nothing more.

Florence Pugh plays Alice Chambers, a loyal and loving housewife to her hardworking husband, Jack (Harry Styles). Residing in an idyllic, sun-soaked suburb, Alice spends her days cooking and cleaning, tending to their Bauhaus-styled bungalow. She’s otherwise seen shopping or taking ballet lessons with the other housewives. They all take the bus; they don’t drive. Their driveways only bear their husbands’ cars.

The community housewives are inundated with every necessity and luxury they could ostensibly ever want — cocktail dresses and an endless supply of Marlboros and martinis  — and they don’t have to spend a moment fussing over pursuing an education or a career. The only thing asked of them is rank obedience. They aren’t allowed to ask or discuss what their husbands do for work, and they aren’t allowed to leave the confines of their palm-treed paradise. It’s like the Garden of Eden, envisioned through the lens of Edward Hopper.

Olivia Wilde went through great measures to ensure key plot elements remain under wraps, divulging very little in the trailers (and somehow supplanting curiosity about the movie with an endless deluge of drama between cast members). And not without reason: An unpredictable plot twist is a refreshing respite from all the remakes and sequels clogging cinema screens these days. Consequently, I will avoid any major spoilers in this review.

There is a certain manipulative power behind ambiguous rhetoric. Frank (Chris Pine), the president of Victory, the tenebrous company that seemingly employs all the communities’ husbands, understands this well. He champions his firm’s vague mission statement, chanting, “We are changing the world,” without ever revealing what work the men do or what product they produce. At least the greasy-haired husbands in Scorsese’s Goodfellas had the decency to ironically tell their wives they worked in construction.

The film picks up in pacing when Margaret (KiKi Layne), a fellow housewife, breaks character and begins prodding into issues deemed unbecoming for the town’s women. Skeptical at first, Alice also begins to doubt her West Elm catalog fantasy when she witnesses Margaret being briskly carried away by masked men. When she asks her husband about Margaret’s whereabouts, he responds, “Don’t worry, darling. She’s fine. You’re being delusional.” Before long, the enigma of the forbidden fruit becomes too beguiling to ignore.

Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling doesn’t triumph only in its meticulous visual aesthetic, but also in its sound. Cleverly presented through vinyl records, the soundtrack features such jazz classics as Benny Goodman and Dizzy Gillespie, serving as a backdrop to dinner parties and arguments alike.

The film’s score is equally as instrumental. The creepiness and isolation of the tranquil suburb are accentuated with dissonant chants that soon begin to haunt Alice’s subconscious as the sunny facade begins to wane in her eyes. The second act is a gripping and fast-paced psychological thriller. While Pine’s charisma makes for a compelling antagonist, it’s ultimately Pugh’s acting prowess that carries the film; Styles’s performance is serviceable, but he needn’t retire from music anytime soon.

The real question that lingers after the credits roll is, what was the impetus behind the film? At its core, Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling presents and repudiates the argument that women’s emergence in the workforce has been an erroneous setback for women, that women would be happier spending their days cooking and cleaning and raising children. But Wilde is about five decades too late to this debate; it may as well be arguing in favor of suffrage, an idea that braces just about as much controversy. Ultimately, Don’t Worry Darling is arguing with itself, but at least it makes for an entertaining spectacle.

Originally Published at The Washington Examiner