‘Don’t Worry Darling’ review: the superficial ode to the modern housewife

Photo courtesy of Merrick Morton

Olivia Wilde’s new psychological thriller, “Don’t Worry Darling,” follows the story of a young 1950s couple by the names of Jack (played by Harry Styles) and Alice (played by Florence Pugh), who live in a desert-based experimental community called Victory. This so-called paradise town is revealed to be full of dark secrets as Alice begins to see glimpses of a more sinister reality in front of her. 

The film starts with an intriguing set up. Like the rest of the wives in this idyllic town, Alice waves goodbye to her husband in the cul-de-sac where they reside and returns back inside to clean, playing on themes of control and the “Housewife” archetype. She scrubs and polishes their home to perfection while humming a tune that circulates throughout the movie.

An eerie metronome-like breathing keeps score of the cracks in Alice’s world. What once starts as a windy breath builds up to hyperventilation of tones dancing over an ambient piano and signaling to the audience the anxiety and unease in Alice’s body. Each breath and tone invites us into the stomach of the characters until you too exist within them and your heartbeat mirrors theirs

The film followed a plot that mirrored hints of “Stepford Wives,” “Get Out” and “The Truman Show” in a 1950s desert landscape with a familiar energy to Darren Aronofsky’s 2010 film, “Black Swan.” 

The film explores the themes of authority, manipulation, power and the female experience, playing most notably on the idea of  the fantasy of the modern housewife controlled by a system she lacks control over. This theme is seen time and time again from the habitual routine of Jack and Alice. 

Every morning Jack is greeted with breakfast — sausage, eggs and toast — and after returning from work, he is met with a clean house, a martini in hand, warm dinner and a perfectly dressed wife eagerly waiting to be undressed, yet every day Alice grows more and more weary of something below the surface. 

[Photo from Olivia Wilde’s film “Don’t Worry Darling.”]
Photo courtesy of Merrick Morton

As the plot thickens, what starts as a deliciously citrus veneer soon melts into visually haunting imagery that plays off the reappearing theme of order. Among everyday objects and tasks in Alice’s life, the daily rhythm of life starts to shape-shift into collapsed versions of itself and with it, the mental health of our leading lady plummets. 

The film follows the idea of the “feminine mystique” coined in the 1960s by Betty Friedan with the assumption that women can exist as caterers to others, fulfilled by marriage, sex and house work.  The theme of the “Doll House” is also present, a concept exploring themes similar to the Feminine Mystique, playing off the idea of a greater initiator controlling the life of someone deemed “below them”, often women, as to create an ideal landscape or “perfect life.” 

I believe most women can relate to the experience of Alice in one way or another most profoundly in her role as a support system at the expense of her own mental health and as a woman subjected to gaslighting in the all too typical “hysterical” sense. 

The theme of the Doll House and the housewife is done in a successful manner with the aid of stunning visual elements and an anxiety inducing soundtrack, but ultimately lacked a certain level of depth. As the plot continued to unfold, it was met with a predictable and overdone reveal that did not live up to the other fantastic aspects of the film. 

Ultimately, Pugh was by far the star of the film. Alongside the movie’s stunning cinematography, her acting made up for areas where the film was lacking.

In her performance with Harry Styles, Pugh kept the film from drifting to novice acting styles despite working with a less seasoned actor. Even then, I felt that the electric and evocative talent of Pugh could have been better served in a movie that catered more towards her talents.

“Don’t Worry Darling” hit the notes in its visual appeal, artistic sequences and phenomenal acting from its lead, but fell short in its explanation and in superficial ode to “The Housewife.” As a whole, the film could have benefited from a greater exploration into Alice’s character and a more unique reveal.

 I would have sacrificed many sequences in the middle and end of the film to have more elements of Alice’s life post plot reveal explored. Especially as a film dedicated to the breaking down of the Doll House, I would have enjoyed a deeper dive into Alice outside of the Barbie figure forced upon her.

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