Sigh. From one of the most anticipated films of the year to one of the most reviled, Olivia Wilde’s follow up to her fun directorial debut Booksmart is a moody sci-fi drama about a woman who is married to Harry Styles and yet somehow unsatisfied with her lot. Styles is a highly recognisable pop star known for his work with boy-band One Direction and popular solo work, and casting him in a role abruptly vacated by Shia LaBeoef completely upsets an apple-cart that, on this evidence, was teetering badly in the first place.
Making a female-centred version of Get Out isn’t such a bad idea, not least because Jordan Peele’s film already owed a considerable debt to Ira Levin’s fembot horror The Stepford Wives. So we return once again to the dystopian suburban well, as Alice Chambers (Florence Pugh) and her husband Jack (Styles) find themselves in the mysterious desert community of Victory, somewhere in California in the 50’s based on the cars, clothes and jazzy social signifiers. Alice dreams the dreams of the everyday housewife, cracking eggs with no yolks and fantasising about suffocating herself with cling-film, but Jack’s promotion within the sinister Victory organisation puts her on a collision course with his saturnine boss, played with little energy or enthusiasm by a wooden Chris Pine.
Real or not, Pine and Styles’ spitting feud at the Venice Film Festival is a much more marketable element that the lame satire of the patriarchy offered here; there is a punch-line where the true nature of Victory is revealed, but it’s such weak sauce that it’s a flat let-down. Other than that, Don’t Worry Darling is all style and no substance; Wilde and writer Katie Silberman absolutely should take on the hot-button notion of male control over women if they want, but to fashion it as a woozy love-letter to suburbia exhausts patience; the inclusion of a cringe-worthy and thematic sore-thumb striptease routine from Dita Von Teese doesn’t help much either.
But what Don’t Worry Darling is likely to be remembered for is a genuine casting disaster; word on Styles’ performance in My Policeman, due out later this year, is pretty awful, but it’ll be hard for him to do worse that his contribution here. Styles has style and charisma to burn as a performer, but casting him in a fairly thankless support role distracts and casts him in an unfortunate, unsparing light. Styles is lucky to have time on his side in terms of figuring out his next move, but on this evidence, it’s unlikely to be the acting realm. In Wilde’s film, he’s just one of a number of undercooked ingredients; giving your moody sci-fi a title that sounds more like a Doris Day comedy is just the first of many issues here….
Thanks to Warner Brothers UK for big screen access to this title. Don’t Worry Darling is out in the UK and US on Sept 23 2022.