There is more to “Don’t Worry Darling,” the new science fiction mystery starring Florence Pugh and Harry Styles, and now playing in theatres, than “Spitgate.” That’s the unfortunate viral video that made it appear that Styles dropped a loogie into co-star Chris Pine’s lap at the film’s Venice Film Festival premiere.
Put that out of your mind, or at least don’t watch it again and again on TikTok until you’ve visited the film’s setting, the suburban Southern California company town of Victory. A picture- perfect place that makes Pleasantville seem edgy, it’s a manicured paradise where it’s always sunny, there is a classic car in every driveway and everyone has a pool in the backyard.
But something seems slightly off. It’s like Rob and Laura Petrie through a looking glass.
All the men in town, like Alice Chambers’s (Pugh) husband Jack (Styles), work for the Victory Project, run by Frank (Chris Pine), a visionary in the field of the “development of progressive materials” for a chaos free world.
“Frank has built something truly special,” says Frank’s wife Shelly (Gemma Chan), “What he’s created out here, it’s a different way. A better way.” He’s a mid-century modern Tony Robbins, a slick talker who says he sees greatness in all his “intrepid explorers,” i.e. the residents of Victory.
His “better way” is also a top-secret way. The business conducted at the Victory Project Headquarters is known only to the men=, an arrangement that seems to suit most of the women just fine, but when Margaret (Kiki Layne) challenges the status quo, claiming that something sinister is happening in their town, Alice opens her eyes and has a hard look around. “I need you to listen to me,” she says. “They’re lying about everything.”
Are they living in Victory or the Twilight Zone?
“Don’t Worry Darling” has style to burn, an intriguing performance from Pugh, whose malleable face reveals wide arcs of emotions with simple, subtle movements. There’s a completely credible turn from pop star Styles, some very cool cars and impressive world building in the first half.
Director Olivia Wilde, who also produces and has a meaty supporting role, creates an uneasy utopia, a welcoming, but too-good-to-be-true place.
That’s the good stuff.
When the film turns into something that feels like an overly long episode of “Black Box,” it begins to show its wear and tear. The twist (no spoilers here) is handled clumsily. One can’t wonder if Rod Serling could have handled this in a more elegant and succinct way.
Unfortunately, “Don’t Worry Darling” will likely spur more gossip (re: “Spitgate” et al) than conversations about its themes. It does raise interesting questions about what constitutes a perfect life and the importance of having agency over one’s existence, but the bungled ending sucks whatever subtextual profundity may lie buried in Katie Silberman’s script.