It goes without saying, but this is maybe one of the most talked about movies of 2022—for all the wrong reasons. Mired by on-set conflicts, many weren’t surprised that Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling (2022) premiered to a 39% critical response on Rotten Tomatoes. The product was bound to suffer from so much friction on set; but after seeing it, I don’t think 39% is a fair score. Sure, Harry Styles’ acting is a real damper in key scenes, and I think there’s definitely a critique to be had regarding the way Katie Silberman’s script treats non-white characters. That being said, I find it hard to believe that Florence Pugh’s masterful performance, Matthew Libatique’s immersive cinematography, Affonso Gonçalves’ flashy editing and the third act’s mind-bending plot-twist would fail to entertain (hence the 80% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes). Aside from how fun the film is to watch, it also offers a pretty compelling examination of patriarchy, community and love.
I think it’s a real shame all the controversy seems to have overshadowed these merits, because Don’t Worry Darling really does have a lot to say. The trailer does a great job of setting up its main themes: the arbitrary nature of gender roles, as well as the arbitrary nature of reality itself, and how these social constructs affect and shape every aspect of our daily lives. Such concerns are furthered by how the lighting, hair-styling and costuming provide an almost Stepford Wives (1975) look to most of the scenes, coating characters in warm natural light and pastel dresses.
The film’s carefully-crafted visuals really channel the ‘suburban nuclear family’ we saw popularized in the 1950s, and for good reason. America in the 50s was undergoing great change with the emerging Civil Rights and Women’s Movements, and the conservative anxiety caused by so much change is reflected in the cultural products of that time. Women’s magazines, TV and movies strongly enforced gender roles with few exceptions, making the aesthetics of this era perfect for Wilde’s deconstruction of man-woman relations—especially considering how Don't Worry Darling is being released in an era of burgeoning conservatism.
The dreamy atmosphere created by these formal aspects only adds to viewers’ sense of dread as Alice begins to pry deeper and deeper into what exactly is going on in her town, uncovering a secret that ultimately shows how the idealized male-centric lifestyle is a myth, one that’s meant to remove women’s autonomy for the sake of mens' egos and convenience. The intensity of Alice’s search for truth is heightened through music composed by John Powell, which always seems to be creating a sense of building, culminating in a horrifying discovery.
As I mentioned, there’s much to be desired with this film: a few of the plot points are never given closure, etc. That being said, I think it’s a fun movie that uses classic tropes and aesthetics to examine patriarchy, technology and love in a very refreshing, interesting way. The ending will have you on the edge of your seat, and Pugh is as good as always (as is Chris Pine). When I first started this blog, I said I’d never rate a movie, because I don’t think ratings really capture all a film has to offer, and that’s no different here; just know it’s worth a watch. Catch it in theaters while you can!
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