Dir.: Olivia Wilde; Cast: Florence Pugh, Olivia Wilde, Chris Pine, Harry Stiles, Gemma Chan, Kiki Layne, Douglas Smith; US 2022, 122 min.
Not even three three publicity stunts could elevate Olivia Wilde’s follow-up to her debut feature Booksmart at the Venice Festival this year where the film written by Katie Silberman, Shane and Carey Van Dyke was screened Out of Competition.
Was Shia LaBeouf really fired and replaced by Harry Stiles? And did Styles really spit at Chris Pine? And what about Florence Pugh. Did she cut down on press work because she was miffed by Wilde?
Don’t Worry Darling turns out to be a pale imitation of Stepford Wives, The Truman Show and Pleasantville rolled into one. In the southern Californian desert a model community called ‘Victory’ has been set up very much along the lines of Pleasant Living, with the wives cleaning and cooking while their menfolk put their minds to the top secret ‘Victory’ project, all kitted out in dapper 1950s suits and driving souped-up retro cars.
In this empty-headed utopian Eldorado Alice (Pugh) are Jack (Styles) are always hard at it – even on the kitchen table – cutlery and plates flying all over the place. Frank (Pine) and his wife Shelley (Chan) are meanwhile the leaders of the clean living brigade. Frank is not only the boss at work, he is the spiritual guru who keeps everything together like a scout master. Bunny (Wilde) and Bill (Smith) are trying hard to fit in with the set-up; the only one having doubts is Margaret (Layne).
One day a toy airplane lands in her lap and soon afterwards Alice sees a full size version falling from the sky and detonating in the desert. After Margaret commits suicide on the roof of her house, Alice takes matters into her own hands. But instead of offering insight into why these female characters are being gas-lit, Wilde opts for a car chase.
PD Katie Byron and Aronofsky’s regular DoP Matthew Libatique keep the production values up, mustard and pistachio dominating in the desert sand and the cloudless sky. Vacuous and totally humourless, Don’t Worry Darling is a void, held together by Pugh who struggles desperately to bring something fresh to the production. A first class actor in a lousy imitation game, she has all the right to be angry at Wilde – never mind the rumour mill. AS
VENICE REVIEW | ON RELEASE IN THE UK FROM 23 SEPTEMBER