The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
It was extremely difficult not to enter the movie theater and see Don’t Worry Darling without having some kind of biased opinion on any of the cast members.
For example, I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t a massive fan of Harry Styles. Before all of the chaos surrounding the film happened, I knew that deep down, the only reason I wanted to see Don’t Worry Darling was to be able to sit in a theater and be gifted two hours of Harry Styles content on a massive screen.
I wanted to try and go into the film with an open mind. But with all the rumors of on-set drama during the production of the movie filling up my social media feeds for weeks, it was hard not to have preconceived notions during the entire experience.
For those who are not up to speed on what had the gossip accounts fuming over the last two months, allow me to give you a quick catch-up. Many rumors circling around on-set feuds between Don’t Worry Darling‘s director Olivia Wilde and lead star Florence Pugh began to spread after the film’s leading man, Harry Styles, was pictured holding hands with Wilde at a wedding.
Once it was obvious that the two were in a relationship, online gossip about Styles and Wilde spread like wildfire. Internet users claimed that while filming Don’t Worry Darling, Wilde would often leave set to sneak away and spend time with Styles. Rumors even accused Wilde of cheating on her former fiancé, Jason Sudeikis, with Styles after the pictures of them holding hands appeared months after her and Sudeikis formally announced their separation. Wilde called these claims “completely inaccurate” in an interview with Vanity Fair.
The controversy surrounding the film only became worse when in an interview with Variety magazine, Wilde stated that Shia LaBeouf, who was originally cast as Styles’ role, was asked to leave the production in 2020 because of his “combative” acting style. Wilde mentioned that she needed “protect” cast members like Florence Pugh from his behavior. Weeks after LaBeouf left the film, singer FKA Twigs came forward and stated that LaBeouf was abusive during their relationship, supporting Wilde’s claims of him being difficult to work with.
However, almost immediately after Wilde’s Variety interview, LaBeouf revealed that he was not fired from the Don’t Worry Darling set, but actually chose to leave because of a lack of structure within the film’s rehearsal process. He sent Variety email exchanges between him and Wilde which explicitly state that he chose to leave. Things got even messier when LaBouf released a video Wilde sent him upon his exit from the film, asking if the two could work things out so that he could stay in the movie, saying that she believes LaBeouf’s exit will be a “wake up call” for Pugh, or as she calls her in the video, “Miss Flo.”
When Florence Pugh skipped the press conference for Don’t Worry Darling at the Venice Film Festival and instead showed up hours later with an Aperol spritz in her hand, decked out in Valentino, it became clear that something quite uncomfortable had to have happened on that film set.
As a film lover and Harry Styles fan, I still wanted to give this movie a proper chance. Although I was somewhat skeptical of Wilde’s statements, I also wanted to acknowledge that she is much more likely to be targeted in the press because she is a female director. Some of Hollywood’s favorite male directors could practically get away with murder, yet Wilde’s career is getting trashed online for rumors that have been consistently denied by people who worked on the film.
This past Sunday, with my best friend in tow, I saw a matinee of Don’t Worry Darling. The movie follows idyllic couple Jack and Alice Chambers (Styles and Pugh) who are living in a utopian town called Victory in the 1950’s. They attend dinner parties, wear fabulous clothes and live in a beautiful house. Jack works for the Victory Project, a top-secret cult-like organization founded by a power hungry man named Frank (Chris Pine). Alice is the perfect wife, constantly cooking and cleaning to please her husband. But when flaws start to appear in Victory’s seemingly perfect world, Alice grows skeptical of why she is stuck living there in the first place.
As Alice openly expresses her discomfort within the Victory Project, she becomes villainized by it’s leaders and must figure out how to escape. Florence Pugh is captivating in this film. Every movie that I’ve seen her in has made an impact on me because of her talent. Pugh is able to capture so many feelings in one scene, and plays a comple housewife on the brink of insanity perfectly.
I’m biased, but Harry Styles really did a great job in the film. Some fans will most likely enter the theater expecting him to be on-screen almost the whole time, but this is Pugh’s starring moment. Styles’ Jack is more of a supporting character. However, when he is on-screen, he is quite memorable. He somehow smoothly switches back and forth between a doting, hard-working husband and an enraged manipulator
Pugh and Styles have incredible chemistry, almost making you want to root for their relationship despite all of the cracks you witness beginning to form. The town of Victory really is a stunning setting as well, thanks to the fabulous work of costume designer Arianne Phillips and the sets by Katie Byron.
Although the acting had it’s excellent moments, the story itself was unfortunately what I would consider to be kind of average. The screenplay was originally written by Carey and Shane Van Dyke, the grandsons of legendary performer, Dick Van Dyke. It was picked up by Wilde and screenwriter Katie Silberman, who also wrote Wilde’s beloved directorial debut, Booksmart.
The story is enticing, as it is almost like the series Black Mirror and the 1975 “feminist horror” film The Stepford Wives had a baby. However, it had some plot holes. The film is an extremely repetitive sort of nightmare sequence for Alice until the last 20 minutes or so when it is finally revealed how her and Jack ended up in the Victory Project. We finally learn the truth as to what the ‘Victory Project’ is, but we learn all of this a little too late.
Even when we do get the chilling back story of Alice and Jack’s life before Victory, there are so many unanswered questions left when the film ends. Perhaps if the writers had shaved off twenty to thirty minutes off of the scenes showcasing the repetitive life in Victory, they could have been used to further explain how each person got there, something that I found to be the most interesting part of the film. The plot twist felt rushed, almost as if it had been forgotten about.
I left slightly disappointed in the lack of feminism and female empowerment that Wilde was almost trying to sell leading up to the film’s release. In her Variety interview, Wilde often mentions how she would use this film to portray feminism in new ways. In the past, she often spoke of how this film would showcase genuine female pleasure, yet most of those NSFW scenes involved Jack manipulating Alice to make her want to stay in Victory. I was sensing that Wilde had good intentions, but I don’t think they really came through.
The film quite literally revolved around women trapped by men in a simulation-type society. It didn’t feel at all like a feminist film until perhaps the last 10 minutes, when one of the women in the film does something that changes the course of Victory forever.
As much as I wanted to leave the theaters thinking that Don’t Worry Darling would become one of my favorite movies, I didn’t. I left feeling satisfied yet dissatisfied at the same time. Did I get the Harry Styles content that I wanted? Most certainly. Did I get the thrilling, empowering, psycho-thriller that I was anticipating? Not really. My high expectations were not quite met. I was left wondering, “What was that?”
If better executed, it could have been an Oscar nominee. The cast was made up of some excellent actors. Florence Pugh is so incredibly captivating. The look of the film was gorgeous, and I adored the soundtrack. Yet the material fell flat. It left me wondering if I somewhat secretly enjoyed keeping up with the behind-the-scenes drama more than I did watching the actual movie.