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Don’t Worry Darling is not the greatest film ever made

I was bored the other day, so i thought i’d go see a film. The problem, my dear readers, is that i have this terribly unlucky habit: 70% of the time, when i go see a film at the cinema, it’s not very good — and i can confirm that Don’t Worry Darling is, indeed, not very good.

If you’ve heard anything about Don’t Worry Darling, it’ll be about the juicy, juicy behind-the-scenes drama, involving saucy affairs between director Olivia Wilde and the film’s leading male star, an exasperated Chris Pine, and Shia LaBeouf. But we’re not going to be talking about any of that — instead, we’ll be talking about the topic everyone is desperately avoiding: the movie itself. Oh dear.

A promotional still showing Florence Pugh making a confused and terribly concerned face at the camera
© Universal or whoever distributed it i don’t really care.

The film boils down to a thin Truman Show pastiche following a troubled couple in an idyllic American suburb, wherein a 1950s housewife, imaginatively named Alice Warren, questions what her controlling husband, the inexplicably British Jack Chambers, actually does at his mysterious government job. The wonderful Florence Pugh, hot off of 2019’s Midsommar, gives her all with the script she’s given as Alice, and is easily one of the standout parts of the film. Jack, on the other hand… Jack is played by Harry Styles, a man who should not act. (Every pop star nowadays seems to think they can walk the tightrope between music and cinema as easily as Lady Gaga does, and it never quite seems to work out for them.)

So, let’s put ourselves in Ms Wilde’s shoes. You have one common plot structure, one brilliant lead actress, and one so-so lead actor. How do you make this movie… good?

Well, first you load up the secondary cast with talented people. KiKi Lane and Chris Pine both absolutely kill it in their respective roles — Margaret, a troubled neighbour to Alice, and Frank, Jack’s hammy villainous boss — but neither character feels fully fleshed out; Mr Pine in particular finds himself with not much to do despite ostensibly being the driving force behind the plot.

You can also pour piles upon piles of money into your film’s technical aspects. The quaint suburb in which Jack and Alice live is designed to within an inch of its life, and every shot is clear, crisp, and packed with colour while not being too overbearing — like a James Bond film or, if you’re being unkind, a perfume commercial.

Alright. You’ve got your cast, you’ve got your style, now you just need to… ah, god, what was it? You look down at the smudged writing on your hand — ah, yes, the script! You have to write a script, with, like, a plot and stuff.

You wake up from a terrible dream. You are no longer Olivia Wilde. You are once again the handsome reader of the blog of an even handsomer webmixter, who politely informs you that the film’s one-block-wide Jenga tower of a storyline, while it seemed to be setting up for an interesting conclusion, falls apart completely in the third act. The film’s writers pull out every cliché in the book — “it was all in VR!” “our protagonist’s best friend was in on it!” “if you die in the game you die in real life!” — in the space of about ten minutes, with barely any of it given room to breathe. (In fact, that third revelation comes after a pivotal death scene.) Just as the audience wonders what impact this will have on the plot going forward, the film just… ends, with a distinctly unsatisfying resolution to our hero’s story, and an air of “well why did they even bother?” about the villainous plot.

All in all, i really can’t recommend watching Don’t Worry Darling — perhaps catch it on streaming when it comes out if it piques your interest, but don’t spend your heard-earned Lizzies on going to the cinema to watch Harry Styles gaslight his wife for an hour and a half. (5/10)

Pass notes: some other films of note

See How They Run is a fun, Wes Anderson–lite romp of a mystery story that gets in and out and does what it needs without making too much of a fuss about itself. Saoirse Ronan and Sam Rockwell drive around in a tiny blue ’50s police car; what more could you possibly want? (7½/10)

The Woman King is a fine enough (alternate-)historical epic carried on the backs of some terrific performances by Thuso Mbedu and Viola Davis. (6/10)

I wasn’t expecting to be so spellbound by a seventy-year-old drama film of a bunch of people talking in a room, but i absolutely could not take my eyes off of 12 Angry Men, which you should really just go watch right now. (9/10)

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