Olivia Wilde’s thriller in a gilded cage opens with a seductive flow of cocktails and cocktail dresses Don’t worry dear takes place in a post-war luxury community, similar to Barbie’s dream town, built from a collective nostalgic memory. Victory, as this domestic paradise is called, resembles almost any charming postcard of ’50s suburban life shown on screen in the last 40 years. It’s all part of the plot of the film. It’s derivative with a purpose, if not exactly fresh insight.
Among the residents of this Rockwell-esque asylum is Alice (Florence Pugh), a young landlady as impeccably dressed and groomed as the opulent house she ritualistically cleans. When not washing or vacuuming, Alice drinks by the pool with the other wives in the neighborhood. She is married to Jack (pop star Harry Styles), a rather dashing Brit who showers her with status symbols and rapes her at the dinner table. Every morning, he climbs into his sleek silver convertible, joining a fleet of colleagues racing across the desert to the company’s headquarters – the first image to suggest that beneath this city’s immaculate surfaces there may be something stranger than mere stuffy conformity . .
Wilde and her screenwriter Cathy Silberman take their time to reveal that something. Instead, they let the audience discover it little by little with Alice as little cracks form in the facade of her “perfect” dollhouse life. What, she begins to wonder, is her husband doing there, in the desert, by the mysterious building, neither of the husband and wife is allowed to approach, supposedly for their own safety? “We’re changing the world,” insists Frank, the town’s founder and cult-revered CEO of The Victory Project, which features Chris Pine with the swagger of a motivational speaker. He quickly dismisses the growing anxieties of the wives of one of his employees (KiKi Lane, who has a small role). Alice, however, begins to see sense in her concern.
Viewers may be less interested in what happens behind the scenes of the fictional Victory than what happens behind the scenes of this real movie. Don’t worry dear arrived now after a press tour that turned into a long series of racy dramatic on-set anecdotes — a display of celebrity dirty laundry that kept social media abuzz and may have sparked public interest in the film. Still, anyone going into it expecting telltale signs of a troubled production, or perhaps some campy new classic of star-ego-versus-egos, may be disappointed to learn how little of that supposed mayhem actually made it to the screen. if what Don’t worry dear driven to failure.
It certainly represents a creative leap forward for Wilde, whose first feature, the teen comedy Booksmart, was much more enjoyable than funny. (Like his strained titular heroines, he struggled to really break free.) Switching to a completely different wavelength here—and in a key supporting role—Wilde maintains an atmosphere of hushed anxiety through the whisper of a hyperventilating score, the repetitive hum of a radio, set to a golden old dial, and a production design that is a bit fruity… turned off. Still, it’s hard to shake the feeling that the director has constructed his second film as an annotated essay: a bit of feminist fear of The Stepford Wivesa bit of a repetitive domestic routine Zhanna Dilmanall laced through as a commentary on modern men’s obsession with traditional gender roles of a bygone era.
Wilde’s smartest move was to save Pugh, who slowly turns her cherubic joy into paranoid distress, as the reversal of her climactic close-up in Midsummer. The most striking moments in Don’t worry dear to find his Alice looking, figuratively or literally, through the looking glass … or threatening to break it. At one point, she is suddenly pressed against the bay window she was cleaning by some mysterious, compressive force—a surreal expression of the moment someone discovers they’ve lived every day of their short life in a fish tank. Still, Pugh can’t quite bring the film to life, which in the end just starts spinning a twist that the audience can understand long before Alice does. Don’t worry dear similar to a Dark zone the episode is pushed to the outer limits of its dramatic endurance. It takes 122 minutes to make what Rod Serling would have in a cool 25.
What we witness is a fantasy of sunny, carefree prosperity that shatters into a nightmare of oppressive confinement. But isn’t that the hallmark of every movie about the lie of the suburban dream and the regressive dead end of the nuclear family plan? By now, calling the stereotypical 1950s image of American bliss with a two-car garage an illusion has become its own cliché. It’s impossible to look at an incredibly bright, clean patch of lawn and not think of bugs David Lynch discovered that it was bending at the bottom three and a half decades ago. Don’t worry dear apply a new coat of paint to this room. But as for the drama, it is collective.
Don’t worry dear opens in select theaters on Friday, September 23. To learn more about AA Dowd’s work, visit him Author’s page.
Don’t Worry Darling Review: Through the Looking Glass
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