Life is perfect in the city of Victory. The houses are spotless. The lawns are green like emeralds, even though Victory is in the middle of a dry desert. Everyone is beautiful, dressed in the most magnificent 1950s clothing. There is apparently no crime, no police and no worries. While their husbands go to work in some underground laboratory developing the “development of progressive materials”, the wives get to take ballet classes and shop. They ride the trolley into town as the sun shines down with perfect magic hour light.
But then Victory makes the women sing weird things at the ball, like “there’s beauty in control” and “there’s grace in symmetry.” Then they come home from the ball, and the sun is still shining with the same early evening glow, as if no time has passed. The alcohol just flows a little also free at dinner parties. Occasionally, the whole ground shakes violently, and everyone has to grab every glass in the immediate vicinity, so as not to fall to the floor and be smashed to pieces. One of the wives begins to insist that the men are not being honest with them. But how could that be? Everything is so beautiful and orderly.
Of course, life is short also perfect in Victory. Something is missing behind the facade of 1950s suburban tranquility; that much is painfully clear from the earliest moments Don’t worry honey. But it takes the film more than half its running time to even begin to reveal what’s beneath Victory’s serene surface, and by then any excitement or interest in the characters is long gone. (The last movie to so blatantly and clumsily give off this kind of Something Is Very Wrong Here vibe was Last Christmaswhich telegraphed its own wackadoo twist in its trailer.)
The central figure in this mystery is Alice (Florence Pugh) who loves her hard-working husband Jack (Harry Styles), a rising star in the Victory Project. Unlike most of the other couples in their beautifully manicured cul-de-sac, they are childless. That’s just the way they like it; that gives them time to have sex anywhere and everywhere, including in the bedroom of Jack’s boss (Chris Pine), who founded the Victory Project and invites everyone in the company to a pool party where he gives an inspiring speech about the importance of their society and the danger to it from the threat of chaos.
But then Alice inadvertently injects some chaos into their lives when she disobeys Victory’s one rule—never go to corporate “headquarters”—to investigate a plane crash she witnesses one day while riding the trolley. Afterwards, she begins to experience bizarre hallucinations; the walls of her house seem to literally close in on her, and she is haunted by nightmares of women dancing in perfect symmetry. (But wait! I thought there was supposed to be grace in symmetry!) Soon, Alice’s disturbed neighbor Margaret (KiKi Layne), who keeps calling Victory a sham even as the rest of the women in town ostracize her for it, After all, it seems so crazy.
Pugh is perfectly fine as Alice, though she was even more effective in the similarly themed (and far more disturbing) thriller Midsummer. She has some chemistry with Styles, but he is otherwise totally miscast for (and looks a bit lost in) his role. The only person who really brings anything memorable to the film is Pine, who is so damn handsome and so believable to play a man with such a strong cult of personality that he could convince people to help him build a private community in the midst of in nothing. . As he and Pugh get a big scene together nearby Don’t worry honeys climax, the film suddenly and briefly comes alive.
Of course, some of these names were not the original actors in the film. You’ve no doubt heard that Shia LaBeouf was the first star chosen by the director Olivia Wilde for Styles’ part, and that Wilde and Styles eventually became a couple after working together. Rumors of on-stage strife continued throughout production, and even into the film’s run on the summer film festival circuit.
None of that has any bearing on my feelings about this project. Troubled productions sometimes produce masterpieces, and harmonious sets sometimes produce garbage. A film is not the way it is made; that’s how it plays. And Don’t worry honey plays very poorly. It’s the kind of persistent puzzle of a film that’s very difficult to solve, especially at over two hours, and here Wilde simply wasn’t up to the task.
Her last effort, Book smart, was so funny and insightful, and this follow-up was even written by its screenwriter, Katie Silberman. But Don’t worry honey is a textbook case of a sophomore slump; an ambitious vision overloaded with big themes and lofty messages that have been buried in a suspenseless thriller, all set in a world whose rules have not been thought through beyond how they can be used to help the filmmakers say something meaningful about the evolving role of women in society.
I found myself mostly agreeing with Wilde’s points and completely bored by the way she made them. Don’t worry honey isn’t even the kind of mystery you can think about and talk about when it’s over, because none of it holds up to even the slightest scrutiny. Like the Victory itself, there’s not much there once you get past its glamorous exterior.
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