If Don’t Worry Darling has one thing going for it, it’s that it looks gorgeous — one wishes the carefully curated, uncanny 1950s world they live in could be used for far more interesting cinematic, narrative, and theoretical purposes than what the film decides to do. Essentially, there are beautiful people, having beautiful sex, in a beautiful town. Jack (Harry Styles) is a doting husband married to Alice (Florence Pugh), an attentive housewife making breakfast each morning and having a drink ready for him each night. And for the majority of the two hour runtime, it is essentially these conditions plus a creeping sensation on Alice’s part that something might be off. And that — plus an eye-rolling twist — is it.
The film falls into a newly developing and frequently disinteresting (if not downright problematic) trend of girlboss feminism films; on-the-nose representations of current discourse (in this film, we see the weakest of nods to incels, gaslighting, emotional abuse, gender performance, and so on) that don’t really offer much in terms of furthering the conversation, validating experiences, or providing catharsis.
As for the sensation it seeks of Alice being monitored, watched, and gaslit into an existence that is not genuinely her own… one would genuinely get more out of The Truman Show on nearly every level.
The structure is weak, the editing sluggish: a scene in which Alice begs one of her peppy housewife friends to believe her while her husband literally tap dances for his new promotion chugs along at a clunky pace, a moment where one craves some quicker, more exciting editing, a sense of reaching the precipice of anything. Some directorial choices show Wilde’s technical finesse, though other moments feel overly-showy to the point of distraction (particularly some moments of whirling camera movements).
As for performances, what has been frequently said I will simply echo here again: Pugh’s finesse struggles against Styles’ inadequate acting, plain and simple. I cringe at perhaps the only touching and tragic moment of the film — Alice’s heartbreaking pleas that she will be a better wife to Jack as she is dragged off by uniformed men for electroshock therapy — is obliterated by Styles’ poor acting as he forcefully sobs and shouts.
As for Don’t Worry Darlings cyberpunk-ish twist, it feels totally intangible, a slapdash representation of the very real, present conversation we are having about alt-right pipelines and incelism. In fact, it is so abstract, it’s not even really accurate in what it posits. A Washington Post review points out that Jack in the real world is meant to represent an incel, roped into an online group encouraging a return to the old, distinctly patriarchal ways, and that Chris Pine’s character, in his domineering leadership, is meant to represent a Jordan Peterson-type. For the chronically online, maybe these thoughts will come up, if only entirely tangentially, but the film hardly presents this with much clarity, finesse, or commentary. (Not to mention, Jack is quite literally not an incel in the literal definition of the word — just a briefly unemployed, sort of greasy dude, dating a beautiful, accomplished doctor who is not concerned about him temporarily losing his work in the slightest). To say this is “about” incels would be like saying it’s also “about” the trend of tradwife aesthetics — some weak signaling that is inaccurate in its representation.
Don’t Worry Darling quickly became a film eclipsed by a real-life publicity mess. At the end of the day there is genuinely more to be said about the current state of how we handle believing women, toxic masculinity, and gender roles in the hesitant, drawn-out firing of alleged abuser Shia LaBeouf and the simultaneous bordering on misogynistic critique of Wilde (as many things can be true at once in conversations of sex and gender in Hollywood), than the film itself offers.