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"A half-finished, rehashed story": Don’t Worry Darling disappoints

Don't Worry Darling is not the feminist masterpiece its creator hoped for, argues reviewer Emily Finan.

Don’t Worry Darling

Despite only being on UK cinema screens for a short amount of time, Don't Worry Darling has already established itself firmly in the pop culture conversation. From on-set arguments between director Olivia Wilde and leading actor Florence Pugh to public snubbing and leaked voicemails, Don’t Worry Darling has suffered from a dismal press run.

Wilde has very much marketed this film as a feminist piece, emphasising its focus on female pleasure and strong figures within the narrative. But this feminist angle seems redundant when compared with the final product. Though it attempts to call out misogynistic incel culture and, to an extent, provides a strong, practical female character, it doesn’t quite chime. We merely watch two hours of distress and suffering with no concrete salvation.

Don’t Worry Darling is not the ground-breaking call to arms Wilde believes it to be. It is simply a half-finished, rehashed story that we have seen a thousand times before.

Inspired by Peter Weir’s The Truman Show (1998), Don’t Worry Darling only retreads the ground of the uncanny valley. The imagery of perfect 1950s suburban Americana has been used countless times to evoke horror and uneasiness in viewers over the years, to the point that audiences now assume something is going to be amiss when this aesthetic theming appears.

Popular culture is saturated with the concept of the dark undertones underpinning the American Dream and its surrounding ideals and imagery.

Wilde leans heavily on the pre-existing literary and cinematic canon of turbulence behind the closed doors of white-picket fence housing to the point of laziness and, though visually astonishing, Don’t Worry Darling fails to bring anything new to this long-established trope.

The plot leaves a lot to be desired, but the costuming and set design is wonderful. It truly captures a sense of uneasy decadence and romantic view of the 50s whilst delivering a macabre tale against the backdrop of mid-century styling.

However, this lush visual journey clearly hoped to excuse the lack of narrative substance. It does not.

Leading lady Florence Pugh makes this film worth watching, once again giving an animated performance of a deranged woman descending into paranoia at the hands of the masculine world she is trapped in. ‘Girl in the midst of an emotional crisis’ appears to be a role Pugh is exceedingly good at and her turn as Alice Chambers is no exception.

Olivia Wilde, despite her unfortunate public presence, gives a strong performance as Alice’s glamorous and catty frenemy Bunny, perhaps aided by the spiteful reality of their onset relationship…

Harry Styles’ current stardom in the zeitgeist was clearly banked on when he was cast to replace the disgraced Shia LaBeouf, however his performance falls flat.

His line delivery is weak and stilted, often coming off as uninterested when matched with the passionate Pugh. He is either tenderly laconic or cartoonishly furious with her with very little middle ground. Matched with such a powerful onscreen partner, any subtlety or skill in his performance is lost.

But it is not entirely a bad final product. The high-tension dinner sequence between Florence Pugh and Chris Pine is genuinely gripping and much of the film, though unoriginal, is still relatively entertaining. It works at making the audience uncomfortable with its visceral ideologies and visuals but fails to ignite any deeper thought or message, despite Wilde's hopes.

Don’t Worry Darling is not necessarily a film to be ‘enjoyed’ but it can be watched very easily. Just don’t expect a powerful feminist parable. It’s troubling and sickening but it is not particularly different from any sort of faux-reality / unhappy housewife narrative we’ve seen before.

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