Wilde is clearly stretching her legs with this ambitious feature which runs at just over two hours. That turns out to be a blessing and a curse. On the one hand the film looks great. Whether we are in the paradise of the town or the hellscape of Alice’s mind, imagery is distinctive and evocative. And while some of the plot beats are easy to predict, the slow build to the various reveals are tense and tantalizing. On the other hand, it’s all too much at times, and some of Wilde’s “darlings” really needed to be killed. Many standout scenes, including some that appear in the trailer, are purely atmospheric but there are only so many times you need to be shown a set-piece indicating “Alice feels trapped” before the point becomes labored. Pugh gives it her all though in a performance that demands physical and emotional heavy-lifting.
Unfortunately opposite her, Harry Styles gets a bit drowned out. While he was surprisingly good in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk as a supporting character, here he’s demanded to carry a leading role that has multiple layers that shift as the plot unfolds. It doesn’t quite work. He isn’t awful but he and Pugh are not on the same playing field, so there’s a certain emotional weight that’s lost. It’s perhaps telling that he only truly shines in a sequence at a party in a fancy club where he is brought up on stage to perform an increasingly frenzied dance. His physicality here, and Pugh’s reaction to it, speak volumes. Unfortunately, the rest of the time he’s just a bit flat.
Their lack of connection is never more apparent than when Pugh is performing opposite Chris Pine, however, who plays the creepy/charismatic head of Victory, Frank. He’s a charlatan, a cult leader, a rallyer of men; he’s a terrifying ball of damaging discourse wrapped in a palatable coating that the husbands of the town are desperate to digest. By his side is Gemma Chan’s Shelley, the archetype of feminine perfection. Chan is in serious danger of getting typecast but it’s undeniable she plays the part to a tee: softly spoken, stunning in an otherworldly way (after her turn in the show Humans we’re still a tiny bit suspicious that she might actually be a robot), and the most gracious and demure of partners, supporting her husband’s mission to the last.
The men all want to be Frank, or please Frank, or just get caught in the sunshine of his gaze. But Alice isn’t so sure.
A face off between the two at a dinner party is one of the best moments of the movie as the two fizz and flex, and Alice eventually flounders. This scene alone has as much to say about the patriarchy as any number of shots of Pugh wrapping her head in clingfilm, and Pine is wonderful.
That’s the slightly frustrating thing about Don’t Worry Darling: the movie has some very interesting things to say about modern masculinity and femininity, love, status, and the world as it is now. But unfortunately because of a rather bottom-heavy plot (there are a whole bunch of twists that come thick and fast in the final act) and because of the film’s conspicuous similarity to a handful of other things, those interesting points of discussion get a bit lost.