Don’t Worry Darling is the second feature film by Olivia Wilde (Revenge of the Losers), who is best known to the public for her acting career. The film premiered at the 79th edition of the Venice International Film Festival, where it was included in the out-of-competition selection.
Produced by New Line Cinema, the film can count on a rich cast of internationally renowned performers, led by the couple composed of Florence Pugh (Little Women, Black Widow) and Harry Styles (Dunkirk). They are then joined, just to name a few: Chris Pine (Star Trek, Wonder Woman), Nick Kroll (Sausage Party, Big Mouth) and Gemma Chan (Eternals, Crazy Rich Asians). The rights for the distribution of the film in Italy have been acquired by Warner Bros. Discovery, which has set its release date in cinemas for next September 22, 2022.
The events narrated by Don’t Worry Darling have as protagonist the married couple composed of Alice and Jack (played by Pugh and Styles respectively). Jack works at the Victory project research center and their home is located in the town of Victory, built near the center to house the families of the employees. The luxurious urban center, in full 1950s style, perfectly represents the spirit of CEO Frank (Chris Pine) who, in addition to being a visionary captain of industry, is also the spiritual guide of the community.
While husbands spend every day at work, wives spend their time enjoying the luxury of their community. Life is apparently perfect and all the residents' needs are met by the company. However, some cracks begin to appear in the immaculate image of that small isolated society. Something sinister seems to be hiding beneath the attractive facade and Alice can't help but wonder exactly what they are doing to Victory, and why.
One of the most interesting aspects of Don’t Worry Darling's narrative is its appeal to Cold War period science fiction. Deriving from that trend is first of all the management of tension, which is made to spring from a background element, barely perceptible but always present. On the other hand, in that branch of literature, as well as in this film, the goal is to showcase the anxieties that characterize contemporaneity.
Although always perceptible, the true nature and source of these anxieties are often difficult to identify. To bring this aspect of society to the screen, Olivia Wilde collaborates with director of photography Matthew Libatique (A Star Is Born, The Black Swan) to build a bright world, inspired by pop art aesthetics and 1950s illustrations , in which slivers of nightmares creep in without warning. Short disturbing visions, indicative of the malaise that lurks beneath the surface, at times pierce the patina of plastic perfection. In these passages, David Lynch's cinema is a clear reference.
Welcome to the 1950s. Those orderly and peaceful, before those bad guys of the 60s and following claimed to break the idyll. Maybe women looking for social consideration. What a horror. A series of couples find themselves in a small community that moves every day in a way that is always the same, in synchrony, as one.
The wife prepares breakfast for her husband, greets him as he gets into the car just in front of the garden, in parallel the same gesture is made by the neighbors who are then colleagues, friends and the only inhabitants of an oasis of perfection in the desert. Waiting for the ceremony to be repeated in reverse in the evening for dinner, and then the next day and so on. All managed by Victory, a company and benefactor. “Are you ready to live the life you deserve?” Says the slogan, and Alice and Jack like the others, even more so, are. At Victory they are safe, away from the complexity of a hostile world. Yeah, but which world?.
In Don't Worry Darling we are obviously on the side of a dystopian Truman Show, whose choreography is staged with remarkable skill by Olivia Wilde, the second director after the very different indie gem The revenge of the losers. A triumph of harmony, synchronized movements like those of the hubby's cars going to work, towards the limits of the community in the desert, or of the wives' dance lessons.
Perfectly smooth, flawless surfaces, glass and mirrors without doors for Alice to find a way out. Not that you are looking for it. Even if she is the one who begins to ruffle that precision, those bright parties, that sociability only between colleagues and those so happy couples. She and Jack have no children, and this already makes one suspicious, but deep down they are young and always think about having sex. Lucky them.
The closest friend of her and her closest friend, played by the director, thinks so. After all, Florence Pugh (Alice) is a foreign body, even physically, a contemporary woman and less in line with the 50s aesthetic in which she is marvelous like a glove, the handsome Jack, Harry Styles.
She has the fault of questioning herself, at least when she sees her friend Margaret hiding from her husband and then ready to call her for help. But for what? Let me be clear, you also live well in the idealized community of Victory, a collective well-being project led by Chris Pine.
But she looks a lot like a totalitarian society, from which it is certainly no surprise our couple will want to escape sooner or later. Or just Alice. The subject of this Don’t Worry Darling is certainly not original, and it doesn't want to be too original either. She just does her job of keeping a good tension, with a nice formal care, soundtrack and everything in the right place.
What makes this dystopian science fiction thriller, if we want to define it that way, interesting social theoretical film is its ability to grasp the (sacrosanct) spirit of the times without flags or ideological posters, but it inserts a juicy into the well-oiled mechanism of a genre film. story about dominant masculinity that imposes on the woman her own vision of love and blocks her full professional and personal development. Other than mansplaining, here Wilde gives a clean blow, in the lower parts, to the limit of castration, to the male who remained in the 1950s. Thanks also to the script by Katie Silberman, the same as her first film.
Of Don't Worry Darling, the new film by Olivia Wilde presented out of competition at the 79th Venice Film Festival, first of all strikes the appearance, with that vintage glamor of the late 1950s that brings to mind the sparkling era of the Rat Pack.
Minimal suburban homes decorated in a mid-century style, where nothing is out of place. The white paths that line lawns of a green so bright they seem artificial, perfectly cut. The structured, floral dresses that underline the hourglass physicality of women who, fully dressed and made up, greet their husbands who go to work in impeccable suits, and then return to their household chores. And again, the cocktail parties in the garden and the tables always set.
A glamor by its external nature, the representation of a perfect and carefree middle-class everyday life, in which there is no room for chaos, but which hides structural inequalities and imbalances of power. A beautiful, bright, sunny world that hides an inequitable, dark, sinister reality. A utopia that becomes dystopia.
Olivia Wilde starts from here, from an aesthetic suggestion, to tell the story of Alice Chambers (Florence Pugh), who recently moved with her husband Jack (Harry Styles) to the community of Victory, a city built by an experimental company. Victory is practically an oasis in the Californian desert, home only to the families of the men who work for the top-secret project of tycoon and guru Frank (Chris Pine).
What they do all day, it is not possible to know, because the wives are contractually obliged not to ask questions. All Alice knows about Jack's work is that he is involved in the "development of cutting-edge materials" and that from time to time the earth, in Victory, shakes from these experiments.
When a neighbor, Margaret (KiKi Layne), who has ventured into a forbidden area in the desert outside the city, begins to question Victory's true nature, Alice becomes convinced that this idyllic life is hiding something strange and begins to look for answers.
Olivia Wilde's film, her second director after the overwhelming Booksmart, buddy comedy released in Italy with the questionable title of Revenge of the Losers, is written like the previous one by Katie Silberman. In the premise, she recalls the weird atmospheres of The Wives Factory, a novel by Ira Levin adapted into two films, in 1975 by Bryan Forbes and in 2004 directed by Frank Oz with the title The perfect woman. Science fiction, then.
An interesting and even courageous choice was that of Wilde and Silberman to leave their comfort zone and clearly change genres and atmospheres. Not the best they could take, in hindsight, as a matter of familiarity with this type of storytelling and, probably, of priorities. Because in Don't Worry Darling the narrative plan constantly ends up being subordinated to a very sketchy message that feeds exclusively on its iconography. Beyond that, unfortunately, there isn't much else.
You are struck by how the iconographic theme returned several times during the press conference for the presentation of the film in Venice 79, as if to underline how central the vintage aesthetic is in Don't Worry Darling. "I've always been interested in American iconography of the 1950s and 1960s," said Wilde.
“Together with the writer, we focused on the problematic nature of this type of nostalgia. We started writing the film at the time of "Make America Great Again", wondering what exactly it meant. In this film, everything is a metaphor, it is something that we must always keep in mind. There is an underlying paradox, deliberate, in the construction of Victory: everything that is beautiful is also sinister ". I believe that these words are somehow ambivalent, because they reveal the intentions of the authors, on the other hand they make evident the greatest defect of a work in which the attention to aesthetics, form, style seems to suffice in itself, engulfing the rest.
Alice and Jack are a very loving couple who seem to be living the perfect life. A big house, a good job (for him), many friends as neighbors who in turn live the perfect life. A familiar picture that looks like something straight out of an American propaganda film from the 1950s. Parties, shopping, never a cloud in the sky. In short, a dream.
All this is possible thanks to Frank. He is the founder of the idyllic community where the couple lives, a large town in the desert, with all the comforts, as well as the head of the company where all the (male) inhabitants work. A charismatic figure, idolized by all, more a prophet than a simple leader.
But such a perfect existence leads, as often happens, to cracks. What's really the job that Jack and everyone else do? Why can't you go outside the city limits? What do certain mysterious events in the city mean? The events will lead Alice to investigate, to discover the truth behind this ideal city.
Don’t Worry, Darling is an intriguing story on paper. On the one hand, a thriller with an exciting story to solve. Minute by minute, the intrigue becomes more and more dense. We fall into a spiral where we are more and more curious to find out what are the secrets of the town of Jack and Alice which is becoming more and more disturbing.
On the other hand, a story that, right from the title, promises to tackle a certain type of concept of the couple and the family head on. In that "Don't worry, dear" there is a whole idea of the husband as the head of the family, who takes care of bringing home the bread while his wife manages the house. A concept that is important to deconstruct and deepen, today more than yesterday.
As mentioned, this was probably one of the most anticipated films of the Festival, if not of the cinematic season that is starting. Great expectations and curiosities were generated around the work, but the harsh truth is that Don’t Worry, Darling is a film that does not impress as we hoped.
The concept of the ideal, perfect, too perfect town that hides a secret is intriguing on paper, but it is certainly not the first time it has been addressed. Over the years there have been many films that have presented us with similar idyllic suburbs (whether they were artificial or 'spontaneous'). The Simpsons also took up the idea in one of the most iconic episodes, in which Homer made the acquaintance of (Fr) Hank Scorpio and his acquaintances in the hammocks.
Let's be clear: Don't worry, Darling we're not saying it's a predictable movie. The plot is very engaging and discovering the mystery behind the city is exciting. But beyond the finer details, the general structure of the film is what is easy to imagine. And this takes the power out of the whole story.
The same can be said of the more 'social' aspect of the film. It does not offer a great deal of insight into the premise and what one deduces from it. Indeed, some aspects that could have offered further insights are barely mentioned, without really exploring them.