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Archive for September 25th, 2022

There is always a film that everyone is talking about, earlier this year it was Top Gun: Maverick, a few years ago it was Cats.  Maverick, because it was so good, surprisingly good,  Cats on the other hand was for the wrong reason, it was a car crash (so I’m told, I chose not to see it).  But now we have another film that everyone is talking about for the wrong reasons, Don’t Worry Darling, not because it it’s a poor movie, this started way before release.  It is all because of things that may or may not have been going on behind the scenes.  This is a great shame because the film is actually really good!  I’m not going to go into what has gone on, that’s all pretty well publicized, but I will just dip into the effect before getting back to the film.  The film is currently sitting on an IMDB rating of 6.2 but when you dig a little deeper and look at the spread of voting it looks like there is more going on.  Nearly half the voters gave it seven or more out of ten, so you would expect an average in the mid sevens.  However, a whopping 23.3% of voter gave it one out of ten.  Even movies that average around five out of then only get 10-15% one out of ten votes.  In the interest of balance 13.6% gave it ten out of ten, this is also artificially high.  Possibly the Harry Styles effect?  Whatever the reason, I suspect the ratings are even less reflective of the movie than usual.  But so many people choose to watch a movie based on ratings and reviews.

Back in 2009 I predicted Olivia Wilde to be the next breakout movie star.  She was coming off the back of a show stealing performance in The OC and was also outstanding in House, and starting to get film roles.  Although she has had a good career, she hasn’t been the star I predicted.  Little did I know that was a good thing, as it gave her the time to pursue her real interest, directing.  Her first feature Booksmart (2019) was fantastic, and she has a couple of future projects rumoured to be in pre-production including the obligatory comic book movie.  Don’t Worry Darling is a far mor ambitious project in scope, style and production.  Set in an idyllic late 50’s company town that is drenched in pastel colours as much as it is in sunlight.  The production design is nothing short of perfect combined with the cinematography the film has a real visual style and language.  This doesn’t happen by accident; this is clearly a director taking charge of every detail.

It is difficult to give a synopsis beyond the setup, most of which is in the trailer:  Every morning the men, many of whom are somewhat insecure and dweeby, leave their beautiful homes and even more beautiful wives, dressed in perfect suits, and get in their stylish 50’s cars and drive out of town and race across the desert to work at the “Victory Project”, a mysterious endeavour they are not allowed to talk about.  The wives stay at home cooking and cleaning or go shopping and to dance classes.  They know nothing of their husbands work beyond it involves “progressive materials”.  Our focus is on the youngest and most beautiful of the couples, Jack and Alice Chambers (Harry Styles and Florence Pugh).  Making the most of their perfect lifestyle we are introduced to them at a party with their friends and neighbours.  Everyone in the movie, including a pregnant woman seems to have an alcohol intake that James Bond or Don Draper would struggle to keep up with.  The hedonistic lifestyle is personified by Bunny (director Olivia Wilde), she seemingly spends most of the film with a cigarette in one hand and a martini in the other.  Wilde is fantastic and would steal the show if Pugh weren’t so mesmerising.  The Line “work hard, play hard” is even spoken at one point.  The guru at the centre of the Victory Project is Frank (Chris Pine) and his wife Shelly Gemma Chan, both on top for with a strange creepy charisma of a cult leader, or serial killer.

There is clearly more going on than what we can see on the surface, as the movie unfolds and reveals itself it manages to hold the viewers’ attention and interest, but it never totally lives up to the early promise.  The ending and payoff is good but not spectacular.  If there is a crissum, it is with the script.  The story is a little thin for the visual treat and propulsive direction.  There must come a point when the movie reveals itself, and while the reveal is handled well, it is no great surprise.  This prevents it from ever reaching the greatness of a few movies I was going to mention but won’t for fear of spoilers.  But this doesn’t make it a bad film.  It is dripping with style, and the performances, particularly Pugh and Wilde. Harry Styles isn’t bad, he isn’t the best actor in the world, but he clearly has a lot of charisma.  He spends most of his time alongside Florence Pugh who has repeatedly proven to be one of the best young actors around since her debut less than a decade ago in The Falling (2014), and her breakout role in Lady Macbeth (2016), this sometimes helps him, but at others shows him up. 

While it has its visual style firmly in the 50’s melodrama this isn’t a piece of fluff, but then most 50’s melodramas weren’t either!  There is a lot going on thematically, and its deeper than the trailer would have you believe.  These themes and the subtext are never far from the surface.  Rather than try to put them into words, I am going to borrow the words of Terri White: There are a handful of brilliantly compelling ideas at the heart of Don’t Worry Darling. Bodily autonomy, female desire, misogyny, radicalisation, coercive control, female complicity, late-stage capitalism, the dysfunction of the nuclear family. There is a certain section of society (I would include the 45th US President in that list) who will hate this movie, because its about them.  They will not knowingly go to watch a movie like this, I just hope a few of them stumble into see it by mistake.  Having said that they probably wouldn’t recognise themselves on screen anyway! 

A potentially exciting note to end on, I don’t think this is Olivia Wilde’s masterpiece, I believe she has a lot more to say.  To temper that optimism, if she were a man there would be no question she would get the chance, its never as certain for a female filmmaker.  But don’t worry, I somehow don’t think she is going to let anything stop her. 

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