At last! “Don’t Worry Darling,” a movie without a comma but with more publicity than a Ringling Bros. circus (see the fire eaters! and the bendable man!), premiered in New York last night.
Who was there at AMC Lincoln Center? More throngs of Harry Styles fans, and even Harry himself. Olivia Wilde, the director, was there, keeping her distance from Harry because they might be-who knows–a, couple– who cares.
Who wasn’t there? The actual star of the movie, Florence Pugh, who’s filming “Dune Two” in Europe, and Chris Pine, who’s over the whole thing and who can blame him?
So: what is “Don’t Worry Darling”? It’s based on an original idea by Dick van Dyke’s grandsons, Carey and Shane, who are screenwriters. Then it was rewritten by Katie Silberman, who wrote “Booksmart,” Wilde’s very praised first film. And, drum roll, it’s a riff on “The Stepford Wives”: wives have turned up in a cult-like suburban village called Victory, controlled by their husbands until one of them realizes what’s happening and tries to break free.
In this version, the main couple is Styles and Pugh, as Jack and Alice. The setting — near Palm Springs, California — is the late 50s early 60s so the music soundtrack is filled with those wonderful hits like “Sh-Boom” and “The Oogum Boogum Song.” I could live in this town easily. The color palate drips with pastels, the women are in beautiful dresses, the guys are in cool jackets and suits. It’s “Westworld” beautifully designed.
But something sinister lurks beneath as Chris Pine’s character is Frank, their cult leader — very L. Ron Hubbard — who’s brought them all there. He’s married to Gemma Chan, aka Shelley, the first lady of this endeavor. The couples who’ve been recruited for this experiment owe their existence to John Cheever, Richard Yates and “Knots Landing.” They live in a cul-de-sac, have pot luck dinners, cheese boards, and sewing groups. The women spend their days shopping and cooking and readying for sex while the men all work in a mysterious place doing something no one understands. Occasionally there are earthquake like rumblings which no one explains. If anyone asks, the subject is avoided.
Alice sees a plane go down in the distance. No one else will acknowledge it, and she begins to question their environment. Of course, this raises the ire of Frank, who is very creepy and employs a squad of goons in red jackets to remove any infidels from his experiment.
And then there’s a twist. You don’t see it coming. But when it does, you’re intrigued. Victory is not what it seems. What does it all mean? The problem is, I’m still not sure. As many reviewers have said, when the third act arrives, it brings more questions than answers. Even as there’s some attempt to explain, you’re still unsure? Are Jack and Alice in a video reality game? Is this real but there’s no escape? And where did they get all those gorgeous mid century cars?
This is what we take away: Florence Pugh is a star. She is luminous. This is her movie. She owes Wilde a lot because Pugh is a small woman who seems statuesque in “Don’t Worry Darling.” She holds the center of this film and never lets go. Even when things unravel and become preposterous, Pugh is selling it. She’s a sparkplug, a force of nature, even more than in her Oscar nominated turn in “Little Women.”
The rest of the cast — including Wilde herself — are solid. Harry Styles, here and in “My Policeman,” acquits himself well. He has a long way to go but that may because he’s got an entire other career. You know, he’s an international pop star. The fact that he pulled off these two roles says he’s capable of much more. But as Jack, he’s the Darrin of this “Bewitched” set up to Pugh’s Samantha and Frank’s Larry Tate.
Kudos to the whole production team, from cinematographer Matthew Libatique though everyone involved in design. They’ve made Victory a victory!