Film review: Don’t Worry Darling

Don’t worry: behind the headlines, Florence Pugh and Harry Styles’ 1950s thriller Don’t Worry Darling is actually really good…

Film review: Don’t Worry Darling
Nick Ruskell

In all the hubbub around Don’t Worry Darling – everyone becoming body language experts over pictures from the premiere, the egging-on of the apparent rift between Florence Pugh and director-actor Olivia Wilde, the bizarre idea that Harry Styles actually has it in him to do something as aggressive as gob on someone – a lot of people missed something important. On the film’s steamy rumpo-on-the-dining-table-featuring trailer, Florence Pugh told Harpers Bazaar, “When it’s reduced to your sex scenes, or to watch the most famous man in the world go down on someone, it’s not why we do it. It’s not why I’m in this industry. [This movie is] bigger and better than that.”

It is, and there’s so much more to the most talked-about movie of 2022 than spats, spitting and misleadingly trailed sex scenes. But the gratifying side-effect of all this is that the flick itself has managed to stay enigmatic and unspoiled. A lot of talk, ultimately saying almost nothing about what's actually a very good, cool, twisted, stylish film.

Alice Chambers (Florence) and her husband Jack (Harry) are a cool, young, married couple living in a 1950s new town in the desert, Victory, where every whim of a perfect, just-indulgent-enough life is taken care of. Daily, Alice and the other wives wave their men off as they head to work in a top-secret facility in the morning, while their evenings are a whirl of dinner parties, occasionally attended by the Elon Musk-ish leader of Victory, Frank (Chris Pine).

Among the ballet lessons, shopping trips and growing day-drunk picket-fence malaise of the apparent perfect life, something feels even more off about Victory. As Alice tries to find out what her husband does all day, and what Frank is actually up to, everything about living in this suburban idyll begins to unravel. Something’s not right, but you’ll never guess what. And what’s that tune she keeps humming?

Florence Pugh is, as expected, brilliant. Having to wear many hats, she takes Alice from contented, happy housewife who greets her husband with a drink on his return home, to charming hostess, to suspicious mind with a painted-on-smile, to what she becomes in the final third, with the panache of a genuinely unique talent. As she pulls on the threads of truth behind Victory, she helps create a tension that’s both unsettling and intriguing. You have never been quite so puzzled or drawn in by someone breaking an egg in your life.

Harry Styles’ style fits him for the part of overly-handsome, perpetually-horny young go-getter with an estate agent’s greasy charm, even if his Northern accent occasionally sticks out like that of Daphne’s mum in Frasier. He’s an irritating, smug git, but so’s his character and, helpfully, you’re not actually meant to like him too much. His hair is on-point, though.

The sex scenes, yes, they’re hot and everything, blah blah, but it’s in the plastic expression of imagined Americana that only ever existed in movies that the film’s style and flair really come into play. Victory is a weird, living museum of ultra-cool cars, kitschy dresses, thin ties, perfect hair and a banging ’50s soundtrack. It’s easy to get ‘too perfect’ wrong, but here it’s bang on without making it’s point with an oversized cartoon hammer. And the way it twists such normal, repetitive things like pouring coffee or preparing steak into something more stressful and increasingly hideous is masterful. The bits of outright darkness, meanwhile (no spoilers, but one involves cling-film) are genuinely unpleasent.

You’ll never guess the truth. But that’s kind of appropriate, given how obscured by distraction the conversation around Don’t Worry Darling has been (to a point where we have to ask, did anyone else not know Dita Von Teese pops up for a turn in a martini glass?). It’s a knife-edge thriller perfectly deserving of the volume of attention it’s earned, even if for reasons which are beneath it. Florence Pugh is right: this film deserves so much better than that.

Verdict: 4/5

Don’t Worry Darling is released on September 23 via Warner Bros

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