AKA, the one where pop superstar/actor (allegedly) copped off with his director (a then-engaged-to-Jason-Sudeikis-the-father-of-her-two-children Olivia Wilde), to the, alleged, non-amusement of co-star Florence Pugh, who, allegedly, , who, to be replaced by Styles, for much-alleged-about reasons… you’d have thought Don’t Worry Darling, the actual movie, couldn’t hope to compete with the swirl of juicy rumours surrounding it. But, guess what? Turns out, Wilde’s film is actually pretty terrific in its own right.
Welcome to Victory, a Utopian Truman Show-like 1950s purpose-built community, in the middle of the baking Californian desert. Alice (Pugh) and Jack Chambers (Styles) seem like the perfect, young married couple. They live in a lovely home, Jack drives a lovely car and they can’t keep their hands off each other (some of their scenes were apparently so steamy they had to be cut).
During the day Jack, along with the other husbands, drive off to work at the mysterious Victory corporation, run by a chiselled and charismatic guru called Frank (Chris Pine), whilst ‘the wives’ clean the house, shop, cook dinner, listen to Frank’s podcasts and take part in daily ballet classes run by Frank’s spooky trophy wife (Gemma Chan).
But when one of the wives (KiKi Layne) starts to behave erratically and ask disturbing questions, Alice too begins to wonder what exactly the ‘Victory’ project is and the rationale behind the rules supposedly designed to keep them all ‘safe’.
It has to be said that, whatever their frosty real-life relationship might be, Florence Pugh and Harry Styles possess a smoking on-screen chemistry. Indeed, a good 70% of Styles’s role basically amounts to him enthusiastically snogging/shagging/going down on Florence Pugh, who gives a typically strong, deep and full-blooded performance. ‘A force’ is how Wilde describes the actress, who totally storms this. As, in fact, does Wilde (who also has an on-screen supporting role), whose already considerable mastery as a director takes a huge leap forward here.
Yet where Wilde’s hilarious teen comedy Booksmart (also not written by her) felt funny, fresh, and even ground-breaking, ultimately Don’t Worry Darling feels like a mish-mash of other great movies. Not so much a ‘new’ 21st century spin on the Stepford Wives, as a technical upgrade, it’s essentially a Stepford Wives 2.0 with added incels. And given almost all the movie is given away by the trailer, a request for critics to respect/use the hashtag #DontSpoilItDarling seems largely unnecessary.
In fact, puzzling out whether the much-anticipated twist really made any logical sense distracted me from the end of the movie. Even so, it was a sensational ride with stuff to say about women’s bodies and minds, who gets to control them, and the ongoing perceived threat of independent lady power in today’s society. Sharp, sizzlingly stylish, and super sexy, this movie is almost as hot as the gossip it’s still stoking.
Don’t Worry Darling arrives September 23 in UK Cinemas.