“Don’t Worry Darling” gets 2 out of 4 stars

don’t worry darling

With Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Olivia Wilde, Chris Pine, Gemma Chan, KiKi Layne, Nick Kroll, Kate Berlant, Timothy Simons, Sydney Chandler, Douglas Smith, Asif Ali and Ari’el Stachel. Written by Katie Silberman from a story by Carey and Shane Van Dyke. Directed by Olivia Wilde. Opens Friday in theaters worldwide. 123 minutes. 14A

The most interesting thing about Olivia Wilde’s spin-off dystopian thriller “Don’t Worry Darling” isn’t superstar Harry Styles or the film’s star Florence Pugh.

This is the Kaufmann Desert House, the modernist marvel designed by Richard Neutra and made famous by Slim Aarons’ 1970 photo “Poolside Gossip.” The former home of Barry Manilow, the Palm Springs landmark serves as both inspiration and setting for “Don’t Worry Darling,” where he made his film debut. How amusing to think of the current gossip that the well-groomed deckchairs in Aarons’ photo might be.

There’s the reported feud between actor/director Wilde and Pugh, sparked by co-star Shia LaBeouf’s sudden exit from the film. He was replaced by singer Styles, who also replaced Wilde’s husband, Jason Sudeikis, as the object of Wilde’s affections. Oh, and did you hear that Styles spat on his co-star Chris Pine at the Venice Film Festival? (Spoiler alert: that last bit turned out to be wrong.)

So much commotion for a film that’s so quiet, that looks fabulous – the 1950s never shone so brightly – but has no original thought to ponder, no logical path to follow, or thrills beyond. beyond the swirl of a stick. All we’re supposed to do, really, is gawk at the beautiful people, houses, and cars on display.

Even to cite examples of similar and better dystopian tales, it could be a real spoiler for the all-too-obvious script reveals from Katie Silberman, who penned Wilde’s feature debut, the teen comedy “Booksmart.”

An even bigger gift, impossible to ignore, is Chris Pine’s smirk.

As Frank, CEO of the film’s sleazy Victory Project, employer of docile husbands of obedient wives in the patriarchal 1950s town of Victory, Pine exudes the telling confidence of megalomaniacs everywhere. The world he is so eager to change will be his to rule.

Frank’s company is concerned with “progressive materials development”, which obviously has nothing to do with progressive ideals regarding gender roles. I like to think the guys are creating the future toy phenomenon known as Hot Wheels, judging by the candy-colored cars they drive in unison every day to Sidehill HQ. of the Victory Project mountain.

All Frank asks of his employees and their wives is unwavering loyalty (read: obedience) and absolute discretion.

Frank’s wife, Shelley (Gemma Chan) leads a ‘beauty under control’ themed ballet class which the wives attend, when not bathing around the pools of their designer homes, making themselves pleasant water at noon.

From left, Olivia Wilde, Florence Pugh and Sydney Chandler relax by the pool in the mysterious utopia of "Don't worry honey."

In this artificial paradise, Alice and Jack Chambers (Pugh and Styles), a young couple so madly in love they indulge in carnal pleasures on the dining room table as a roast beef and toppings fall to the floor.

Alice is content at first to play the role of the barefoot happy housewife as she vacuums, dusts and cooks, or just hangs out and drinks with her best friend Bunny (Wilde) while upbeat pop songs fill their ears. (If there’s one track in the ’50s movie soundtrack that particularly fits the mood, it’s “Sh-Boom (Life Could Be a Dream),” by the Crew-Cuts, a vocal quartet of Toronto.)

The film slowly shifts into thriller mode after Alice begins to notice imperfections in the apparent perfection of Victory’s life. Eggshells crack; roads lead nowhere; and conversations about the Victory project are abruptly silenced.

Gemma Chan in a scene from "Don't worry honey."

Vague warnings from an unhappy Victory resident, Margaret (KiKi Layne), whom the town doctor dismisses as depressed and delusional, further pique Alice’s curiosity. She intends to find out what is really going on.

Pugh’s emphatic acting helps mask the cracks and chasms of the story; she is an expressive performer even in the most absurd of circumstances. Styles, in his first major film role, is less fascinating, but his character, Jack, is just as fascinating. As for Pine, he has a good smirk as the sinister Frank.

The real appeal of “Don’t Worry Darling” is the look of the film. If there are any award possibilities, they’re for Matthew Libatique’s sunny, flared cinematography (“A Star Is Born”), Katie Byron’s production design (“Booksmart”), Arianne Phillips’ costumes (“Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood”), and hair and makeup by Heba Thorisdottir and Jaime Leigh McIntosh, who also teamed up for “Babylon,” Damien Chazelle’s upcoming Hollywood epic.

Will the pretty pictures do the trick at the box office for a film empty of ideas? Don’t worry, darlings, we’ll find out soon enough.


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