A strange production, a stranger movie: A dive into “Don’t Worry Darling”

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“Don’t Worry Darling” was always highly anticipated. Olivia Wilde was fresh off directing the critically acclaimed “Booksmart” and she assembled an all-star cast. Florence Pugh was a rising star, coming off hit performances in “Midsommar” and “Little Women,” Shia LaBeouf was in the midst of a career resurgence from his personal project “Honey Boy,” even Chris Pine (a leading man himself) was cast in a supporting role. On paper, the film appeared to be a surefire hit. 

But no movie is made on paper. 

The film’s production spiraled out of control in mid-2020. A rift between Wilde and star Shia LaBeouf led to the latter departing the project, either on his own volition or via an ousting. It is unclear what caused the tension, some say Pugh was perturbed by LaBeouf’s behavior and Wilde stepped in, others say LaBeouf and Wilde could not get on the same page. Nonetheless, the film needed a new leading man. 

In stepped Harry Styles. “Don’t Worry Darling” is Styles’ first leading role, and only his second major film project. This casting turned the film into an even higher profile production. Additionally, shortly after, LaBeouf was sued for sexual battery and abuse by his ex-girlfriend, singer FKA Twigs, making the change-up all the more foresighted. Somehow “Don’t Worry Darling” emerged from the negative press with an even better standing. 

Unfortunately, that standing didn’t last long. 

Relationship drama soon took over the headlines. This included the director’s complex divorce, Wilde and Styles consequential relationship and a supposed rift between Pugh and Wilde, allegedly instigated by the two former situations. Add in an internet-fueled “spit” incident between Styles and Pine in Venice, “Don’t Worry Darling” hit every quadrant in the drama department. 

The film’s trip from script to screen can only be described as strange.  

I never thought the film would be stranger. 

“Don’t Worry Darling” is one of the most peculiar films I have ever seen. It is not perplexing in the Lynchian sense (its style is fairly standard) but rather in the disparity between expectation and execution. 

To execute a psychological thriller, it is all about rising tension. Sure, you can have first act twists (see “Psycho”) but there must be a continuous rise throughout the film. Think of recent thrillers like “Get Out” and “Parasite.” Those critically acclaimed hits use the first act to establish the characters and setting, the second act to twist and turn, and the third act to pay off everything in an unexpected, satisfying way. 

“Don’t Worry Darling” violates these principles. Instead of methodically setting the tone, the film rushes its first act, introducing the mystery far too early. But nonetheless, the setting and characters are interesting enough for the film to survive the rocky start. Unfortunately, “Don’t Worry Darling” really takes a dive between its first and second act. While “Get Out” and “Parasite” constantly change the focus of their mystery, this film sticks with its original point of tension for far too long. Yes, the scenes do ramp up a bit in their intensity, but the mysterious elements are largely the same. “Don’t Worry Darling” fails to create that rising tension with its story, becoming difficult, dare I say boring to watch during the second act. 

So point one, “Don’t Worry Darling” falters in its first two acts. But even then, I did not completely throw in the towel. I thought there was still a sliver of hope the film could bring it all together in the third act. 

Unfortunately I was wrong. 

I never expected the third act would be executed so strangely. “Don’t Worry Darling” has the standard twists and turns nearing conclusion, but completely abandons its tonal consistency in the process. 

Once certain twists are revealed, it becomes very, very difficult to take the film seriously.  

Are these twists thematically rooted? I suppose one could say yes.  

Are these twists set up in the first two acts? No, no they are not. 

Because of these incongruous twists, the film becomes unintentionally comedic in the third act. The climax turns into a farce. What is supposed to be an intense, riveting ending becomes strangely comic. Add drastically shifting characters and other discordant developments, “Don’t Worry Darling” completely unravels in the third act. 

It is quite saddening that the film resulted in such a fashion, because there are many redeemable qualities.  

Pugh is an absolute star. She carries “Don’t Worry Darling,” saving countless scenes with her incredible performance. Even with the film faltering in so many aspects, Pugh’s performance still deserves recognition. Pine was also quite good in his role, teaming up with Pugh to deliver the best scene in the picture. Matthew Libatique’s cinematography is also quite impressive. “Don’t Worry Darling” is a visually beautiful picture, and kudos should also be given to the director Wilde for that. 

One narrative the media has been pushing with this picture is that Styles delivers a movie-ruining performance. I disagree with that claim. Though his performance is not perfect (I personally think he is miscast in the role), it by no means destroys the picture. The majority of the faults of “Don’t Worry Darling” lie in the plot structure, character and story execution, not with performances. 

Part of the reason why so many think Styles’ performance is under-par is because most of his scenes are across from Pugh. Whenever you put a superstar-level performance next to an average one, the average actor will look much worse in comparison. Yes, the film likely needed a more experienced actor to line up opposite Pugh, but Styles should not be scapegoated. This film had problems far greater in scale than his performance. 

Ultimately, “Don’t Worry Darling” is one of the most perplexing films of recent memory. 

From the crazy production drama, to the spectacles during release, to the resulting picture, everything surrounding this film is strange. 

“Don’t Worry Darling” does not earn my recommendation, but to be so bewildering in so many aspects, the film honestly earns my respect. 

Rating: 2.30/5 

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