Olivia Wilde’s Don't Worry Darling, has become the buzziest movie of the year—but sadly, for the wrong reasons. Fortunately, it's much better on a rewatch.
By John Farrar
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Olivia Wilde’s second feature film, Don't Worry Darling, has become the buzziest movie of the year—but sadly, for the wrong reasons. What at first seemed like an exciting film with an all-star cast turned into headline-making chaos. The off-screen drama—that spanned from an alleged feud between its star Florence Pugh and director Olivia Wilde, to a viral video which seemingly showed Harry Styles spitting on Chris Pine (which the pop star’s team denied), has overshadowed the movie itself. Critics came to a consensus that despite all the attention the movie’s received, there’s plenty to worry about when it comes to the film itself.
While fans and critics do have valid criticisms and concerns with the movie (which we’ll discuss), after a second viewing of the film, it’s clear that Don’t Worry Darling becomes a substantially better and more enjoyable movie upon rewatching. Similar to movies like The Sixth Sense, some stories just hit differently a second time.
Although nobody should have to watch a movie twice for it to make sense, and clever easter eggs don’t make up for blatant plot holes, Don’t Worry Darling isn’t as bad as critics are making it seem.
Set in the 1950s, the film introduces us to Alice (Florence Pugh) and Jack (Harry Styles), a couple blissfully in love and living in the idyllic community of Victory, an experimental company town that houses the men who work on a top-secret project. While the husbands go to work on their mysterious project, the wives enjoy the beauty and harmony of their seemingly perfect community. This facade of perfection has been upheld for 987 days. However, when glimpses of the dark truth behind the Victory Project begin to appear, Alice begins to question exactly what she's doing in Victory.
Don’t Worry Darling shines in its visuals and music. The chromatic, impossibly perfect Palm Springs-esque town is complemented by beautiful cinematography with long, hypnotizing shots. The use of mirrors and practical effects do a great job of making the viewer feel the terror that Alice is experiencing. The film is accompanied by a period-appropriate soundtrack including artists such as Ray Charles, Little Willie John, The Chords and more.
As with any great thriller, Don’t Worry Darling’s premise is unique enough to keep you asking yourself: What's actually happening here and where is this going? Normally, that is a fun aspect of any story, as long as the pieces of the puzzle are periodically revealed to the viewer. Unfortunately, Wilde waits until the last 30-40 minutes to provide us with any meaningful answers to our questions. By that point, it’s too little, too late because the story is unable to adequately tie together all of its loose ends.
Pugh upholds her standard as one of the best in the business, and her descent into madness is what keeps you engaged. Unfortunately, rather than learning anything substantial about Frank, the lead antagonist of the film, we’re given scene after scene of Alice experiencing deeply traumatic events. Just to give you an idea, here are the sequence of events that happen to Alice before we get any glimpse of clarity as to what’s going on or what Frank’s motives are:
Keep in mind, all of these events happened in rapid succession without providing any clarity on Frank or the Victory Project. Don’t get me wrong, it’s incredibly gripping to watch Florence Pugh play someone in the midst of horrific events (see Midsommar) but it feels as though the film is saying “We have a bigger story to tell, but we’ll get to it eventually.”
What Could’ve Been Better
All we ever learn about Frank is that he’s the well-respected, wealthy leader of the Victory Project and he hosts a popular podcast in the real world (which Jack is a big fan of). In an interview, Olivia Wilde stated that Frank was inspired by Jordan Peterson, the Canadian author and media personality described by Wilde as “this pseudo-intellectual hero to the incel community.” When the ending relies on our understanding and believability of the world the film has created, it’s important that we understand who the antagonist of the film is and what their motivations are. With Frank, we get neither. Even just a few minutes of building Frank’s character dispersed throughout the movie would fill in a lot of plot holes. Considering he stole the show every time he was on screen, I don’t think anyone would mind a few more mysterious monologues from Chris Pine!
Ultimately, many viewers were left disappointed, feeling like the film had an interesting premise with all the right pieces to be something truly groundbreaking, but lacked cohesion and fell flat.
As explained on The Movie Podcast “I love the mystery around the trailer… it gives you more questions than answers. Now when it comes to the movie, the same effect occurs but it’s not for the benefit of the film. I left with a lot more questions than I did answers.” This sentiment of leaving the theater more confused and disappointed was a common trend.
What the Critics Are Saying: Try to keep an open mind while reading some community reviews before we dive into why Don’t Worry Darling is so much better upon a rewatch.
Not Its Stars Shining Moment Florence Pugh is one of the most sought-out actors in Hollywood, with an Oscar nomination under her belt. Her co-star Harry Styles has also received acclaim for his role in Dunkirk. Unfortunately, this isn’t the film fans of theirs will want to watch them in. As Soren Anderson at The Seattle Times writes, “With the exception of [Chris] Pine, the performances are undistinguished. Pugh seems oddly disengaged from Alice. She doesn’t own the part. And Styles’ work is often tinged with hysteria.” Anthony Lane at The New Yorker has harsher words about the pop star: “Harry Styles can carry a tune, halfway around the world, but give the bloke a line of dialogue and he’s utterly and helplessly adrift.”
One-Dimensional Feminist Story The film is supposed to be a feminist story about the harms of patriarchal structures, but ultimately, the message gets lost in shoddy writing and directing. Katie Walsh at Tribune News Service writes, “Wilde brandishes a sword of Betty Friedan-inspired feminist critique, but loses her tenuous grasp on this unwieldy tool, and rather than delivering an incisive blow to nostalgic misogyny, she slices the whole project to ribbons in front of our eyes.” Amil Niazi at The Globe and Mail also remarks that it’s an “ultimately one-dimensional portrayal of toxic masculinity.”
Style Over Substance While Don’t Worry Darling looks stunning, critics point out that it simply lacks substance. Jeff Nelson at Showbiz Cheat Sheet notes that it “has style in spades, but it’s a bit too light on the thrills.” NYC Movie Guru’s Avi Offer also says that though the film is “slick and stylish,” it is “vapid and emotionally hollow.”
Why Don’t Worry Darling is Actually Great on a Rewatch
Clearly, lots of people had variations of the same opinion: Don’t Worry Darling isn’t great. And trust me, I get it. That’s how I felt after my initial viewing as well. After watching the film for the first time and formulating my general thoughts and opinions, I was still confused and had quite a few unanswered questions. I figured the best way to really understand the themes and nuanced character decisions would be to watch the movie again with a fresh perspective now that I know what’s actually happening in Victory. Here’s what I learned:
Many of Jack’s strange actions and behaviors throughout the film are informed by the big reveal near the end of the movie. Jack’s inconsistent accent and “bad acting” make total sense in the context of the story. After the reveal, we learn that Jack is actually an unemployed American incel that is pretending to be British inside the simulation. Before the movie even released there was quite a bit of chatter on social media regarding Harry Styles’ bad performance and weird accent. On August 24, a clip of Styles speaking as Jack went viral on Instagram, sparking criticism from fans who dubbed his English accent "fake" and pointed out slips, adding that his voice "changes twice" in the clip. However, as explained by Chanel Vergas from POPSUGAR, “For those paying close attention, the breaks in Jack's accent are actually hints at his regular speaking voice and the fact that Alice has more to question about her "reality" than she initially realized… Styles's delivery as Jack acts as a clue to the fragility of their world and adds an extra layer of nuance to the plot.”
As with his accent, Styles’ strange mannerisms and performance— which many people considered bad acting, actually makes complete sense once you understand what the Victory Project actually is. Jack is an immature, self-conscious incel that is doing his best to act like a good man. He’s simply living out a fantasy. No wonder he’s so jittery and awkward when he gets promoted!
There’s a scene where Jack cooks dinner for Alice after she wakes up confused and disoriented. On first viewing, the viewer is starting to get suspicious of Jack but we still view the dinner scene as a clumsy, cute, and somewhat romantic attempt to cook dinner for his wife. He’s clearly not great at cooking, since he almost never does it, but at the very least it feels like Jack is doing his best to help out with dinner. While Jack certainly does some questionable things during that scene—like downplaying Alice’s concerns and confusion as to what happened earlier that day and how she got home, I still got the impression that he was simply trying (although ineffectively) to lift the mood and to help his wife to feel better.
On second viewing, however, this scene takes on a whole new meaning. Once you understand the twist, this scene displays Jack’s immaturity and creepiness in a whole new way. He can’t cook dinner because in the real world he’s a degenerate. He ignores Alice’s concerns because he doesn’t want her to know the truth, and her asking questions threatens the whole operation. As stated by Frank in the first act, the men ask their wives for “discretion above all else”.
Bunny’s (Alice’s friend and neighbor) subtle indifference towards everything unusual that is happening in Victory, should’ve set off alarms on first viewing. However, it wasn’t until rewatching the film that I noticed just how dark her character really is. One of the big twists near the end of the movie is that Bunny has actually known the truth about the Victory Project the entire time. She chose the simulated life so that she could live with her kids forever (it’s implied that she lost her kids in real life). She knew all the other women were prisoners and yet she didn’t do anything about it.
On second viewing, Bunny’s decision to regularly smoke cigarettes seems to indicate her character not worrying about any health consequences. She knows none of it is actually real, so she can smoke anytime she wants. Considering it was the 1950s, it was surprising to see Bunny is the only woman in Victory who smokes. This also ties into Bunny’s apparent indifference and detachment throughout the film. There are many close-ups of Bunny’s face where she seems to be mentally checked out and disconnected, either because she knows she doesn’t have any real responsibility in Victory, or because she needs a break from the facade she is attempting to uphold.
There are multiple moments throughout the film when Bunny attempts to convince the other women that there is nothing to worry about and they have no reason to leave Victory. Bunny’s character is complicit in the criminal behavior of the Victory Project, making her character feel substantially more evil on second viewing.
Even the soundtrack has deep layers of meaning. In the first act of the film, the first time we see the men leave for “work”, the song playing is “Comin' Home Baby” by Mel Tormé.
Hey I'm comin' home (Come on home) Comin' home, baby now (You know I'm counting everyday)
On first viewing, you might think this song is referring to the men coming home to their wives after a long day at work. However, on a rewatch you realize that the song is a double entendre. The men are “coming home” in the sense that they are leaving the Victory Project simulation, and temporarily heading back into the real world. As we learned during the twist reveal, the men leave the simulation during the day to go make enough money to pay for the Victory Project. This realization puts a sinister spin on an otherwise upbeat song.
Although a second viewing does clarify many of the plot holes from the film, there are still quite a few that go unanswered:
As with any layered story like Don’t Worry Darling, I’m sure there are plenty more hidden details to uncover on subsequent viewings. Whenever you decide to rewatch Don’t Worry Darling, keep an eye out for these details and questions. You might find something new!
If you’re interested in other movies that put a dark twist on suburban life, check out:
The Stepford Wives: A family moves into a seemingly idyllic town called Stepford, but they quickly realize that nothing’s quite what it seems, uncovering Stepford’s dark secret.
Pleasantville: Two current-day siblings are transported into a 1950s TV show but realize that the seemingly perfect and wholesome life they dreamt of is nowhere near as happy as they expected it to be.
Vivarium: A couple searching for the perfect starter home follows a mysterious real estate agent to a new housing development. They soon become trapped in a maze of identical houses.
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