By Josh Reilly B.
In the modern age of Hollywood, it appears that only movies from a few select franchises can be labeled as cultural phenomenons. Avengers: Endgame, Spider-Man: No Way Home, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens all fall under the category of films to take society by storm and generate a huge amount of buzz.
Now, though, an outlier that breaks this mold has appeared, albeit not exactly for the right reasons. Don’t Worry Darling, starring Florence Pugh and Harry Styles and directed by Olivia Wilde, has captured the interest of the internet with its off screen drama. There’s the conflict between Wilde and Pugh, Shia Lebouf’s presence in the mix, and a whole host of events at the Venice Film Festival (the one involving Harry Styles and Chris Pine proving to be the icing on the cake).
The question on the mind of audiences has been whether or not Don’t Worry Darling is as intriguing and captivating as its off screen drama. Premiering today (September 23) exclusively in movie theaters, Wilde’s follow up to her successful directorial debut Booksmart was, at one point, seen as a potential Academy Awards pick. Suffice to say, there’s been a lot of talk, both positive and negative, about this film.
Don’t Worry Darling follows a young couple as the live in the Southern California sunshine in a quintessentially American suburban town. All is well, except it’s not. Florence Pugh’s Alice suspects as much, particularly as the film goes on, and the premise holds the potential and uniqueness to excel and be an enjoyable film. Without spoilers, the potential of the premise is also what causes the biggest let down of the film. The themes of patriarchy and a male dominated society are interesting but told in a relatively flat manner, all coming to a head with a truly unsatisfying conclusion for all the mysteriousness. It’s neither subtle nor overt, entertaining or enjoyable, and sinks as a downright poor resolution for what appeared to be an interesting narrative.
Beyond the script, which was written by Katie Silberman and in desperate need of a shot of adrenaline and life simply to kick things in gear, there’s the issue of Harry Styles. He’s a world famous singer and it’s near impossible to go on the TV, social media, or radio without hearing one of his songs. He’s dominated the airwaves for nearly a decade at this point, both as part of a group and an individual, before he made a transition to acting. Appearing in Dunkirk and Eternals in small roles, Styles’ acting capabilities were not really put to the test in these films. It was whether or not Styles could be a lead in a film like Don’t Worry Darling, and whether or not he could hold his own opposite a talent like Florence Pugh, that was yet another lingering question prior to this release.
Styles is not awful in this film, and the various viral tweets of his acting here are generally taken out of context (which obviously doesn’t help), but it’s clear he’s out of his depth at this level. Chris Pine, Florence Pugh, Gemma Chan, and more are all some of the best performers working today, and the task of matching that group is evidently a difficult one to take on. Still, Styles seems miscast and a little lost at times here. The relatively shallow script certainly doesn’t help, nor does the already mentioned painfully unsatisfying conclusion of the events, but he isn’t really able to hold his own in any meaningful way.
Perhaps it’s unfair to compare Styles to his co-star Pugh, but the contrast in acting ability is quite astounding at times. Pugh feels more raw, real, and confident in her performance and does her very best to lift this film up as much as she can. For all the talk of Olivia Wilde’s feud with her leading actor, Don’t Worry Darling would be even more dead upon arrival than it already is without Pugh there. The English actress exists as one of the few positives of this film, alongside the cinematography, and doesn’t really deserve to be in a title this unsatisfactory or engulfed in the level of drama that it is.
Don’t Worry Darling is an unsatisfying watch, with star Florence Pugh proving to be one of the only redeeming qualities. Harry Styles feels out of his depth and unable to perform, especially with the inconsistent and dull script. It seems likely that Don’t Worry Darling will go down in history simply due to its off screen drama, as the final film isn’t memorable or enjoyable.