Hullaballoos are a law unto themselves. Once hyped as the hottest of tickets, Olivia Wilde’s second feature is now routinely described as “cursed”. While the tabloids fixate on the timeline of the director’s relationship with leading man Harry Styles (as well as alleged acrimony between Wilde and lead actress, Florence Pugh), critics have put the boot in. The consensus: the film lacks originality and Styles is miscast. Well, the backlash to the backlash starts here. Wilde goes where no one’s gone before and Styles’ cheekily self-aware turn is epic.
Warning: it’s only possible to appreciate the layers in the pop star’s performance once crucial facts come to light. On first viewing, Styles’ accent, and one or two of his character’s emotional outbursts, will make you cringe. Don’t worry. It’s all part of the plan.
Alice (Pugh) and Jack (Styles) live in the company town of Victory, a previously parched spot of California. All the women in this community are housewives. As for the men, they do mysterious work in the desert. Jolted by a series of ugly events - a suicide, along with blatant voyeurism by Jack’s radiantly sleazy boss, Frank (Chris Pine) - Alice begins to question her idyllic existence, not to mention her idyllic spouse.
The big twist is a doozy. Obviously, to go into details would spoil the surprise. Nor is it fair to make invidious comparisons between Don’t Worry Darling and The Stepford Wives/Get Out. In those paranoid sci-fi gems, the central villains are smug, spruce and entirely self-serving. The scenario, here, is so different.
Pugh dominates the proceedings, of course she does. As ferociously intense as she was in Lady Macbeth and Midsommar, she drips with real-girl sweat, even when looking spiffy (watching Pugh drive a vintage car, in a chase sequence, you can’t help but think what a great Bond she’d make).
But the movie as a whole works because Styles, at every stage of the game, is able to keep up. By taking the part of Jack, Styles is complicating his own dreamboat public image. Seriously, he’s deconstructing Harry.
Ignore the group think. Wilde (who dazzles in a supporting role) is a misunderstood genius and her sly erotic thriller is one of the best films of the year.