At least Styles’ appeal fits the premise of “Don’t Worry Darling,” in which a select group of upstart families moved to a planned Palm Springs community to create their own community in the mid-1950s. “It’s another way. A better way,” Gemma Chan‘s glamorous Shelley reassures her guests at one of the film’s many soirées. Her husband is the town’s founder, Frank, and he has played with the sly scheming of a smug cult leader from Chris Pine.
Every day is the same and it’s meant to be alluring. The men go to work in the morning with packed lunches in hand on their way to top-secret jobs at the Victory Project, which they cannot discuss with their wives. The wives, meanwhile, send them off with a kiss before embarking on a day of vacuuming and scrubbing the bathtub, then maybe a dance class and definitely a day of drinking. Wilde himself plays Alice’s neighbor and best friend, Bunny, with cat-eye makeup and a conspiratorial grin. She brings some enjoyable swagger and humor to this increasingly creepy world.
But little by little, Alice begins to question her reality. Her anxiety evolves from nervous paranoia to legitimate terror the more she discovers this place, and Pugh makes it all palpable. Images come to her in impressionistic rushes and nightmares that startle her awake in the dark. Over time, Wilde relies too much on these images: black-and-white clips of Busby Berkeley dancers or close-ups of eyeballs. They become repetitive and tiresome rather than disturbing. The heavy-handed score from John Powell becomes more persistent and nagging, telling us how to feel every time. Whatever you think might be at play here, it’s probably more fanciful than it turns out to be.
When Alice finds the courage to confront Frank about her suspicions, however, it results in the film’s most powerful scene. Pugh and Pine verbally circle and bump into each other. Their chemistry cracks. They are equal to each other in terms of precision and technique. Finally, there is real excitement. More of this, please.
The irony is that Frank and Shelley’s mantra to their adoring citizens is one of control: the importance of keeping chaos at bay, of maintaining symmetry and unity, of living and working as one. But as “Don’t Worry Darling” reaches its climax and unintentionally hilarious conclusion, Wilde loses his grip on the material. The pace is a little erratic throughout, but she rushes to reveal the ultimate mystery with a massive exposition dump that’s both dizzying and confusing.