Venice 2022: Wilde's 'Don't Worry Darling' Doesn't Amount to Much
by Alex Billington
September 5, 2022
So you want to make a movie that inspired by The Matrix? Sure, that sounds cool, why not. But what more can you add? What can you say to audiences that hasn't been said in four other Matrix movies before this? If there's nothing else to add, if there's nothing unique or clever about the screenplay, that movie will end up becoming especially pointless. And that is exactly the result with Don't Worry Darling. Actress-turned-filmmaker Olivia Wilde's second feature film as a director is Don't Worry Darling, which premiered at the 2022 Venice Film Festival playing Out of Competition. That placement in the line-up should already be a sign this doesn't have much to offer, but now having seen it myself, I can confirm that unfortunately as nice as this movie looks - it's empty. Much like the bottles of wine and champagne that Italian restaurants put in their windows to lure you in, but when you take a closer look they're dusty and dry because they're all for show and someone drank them years ago. With this movie, the "free yourself" commentary is obvious, but it doesn't amount to much overall and feels excruciatingly redundant. That's it? There's nothing more to this?
Don't Worry Darling is directed by Olivia Wilde, from a screenplay written by Katie Silberman and Carey Van Dyke and Shane Van Dyke. At a CinemaCon presentation earlier this year, Wilde cryptically compared it to sci-fi classics like "Inception, The Matrix, and The Truman Show." The setup and first half of the movie plays more like The Stepford Wives; there's clearly something strange about this fabulous palm-tree-lined town and we'll eventually discover what. A perfect husband and wife live in their idyllic neighborhood in a small town where the weather is always nice, the food is always delicious, everything is carefree and lovely, and everyone gets drunk every night. But everything doesn't seem entirely right, and Alice, as played by Florence Pugh, starts to notice this. Her husband goes off to work every day at a mysterious hill in the desert called the "Victory Project" while she stays home and enjoys her day with her perfect neighbors. All of this is so basic and generic in its white picket fence idealism and "women stay home and live the best life" concept that it's surprising the movie never adds more complexity beyond this setup. Again I ask, that's it?
On one hand, the movie looks damn good. It's engaging to watch, thanks to so many pretty faces and some slick cinematography by DP Matthew Libatique (who also shot The Whale playing in Venice). It has that polished Warner Bros vibe, with something as simple as a car chase in the desert feeling like it's Mad Max: Fury Road all over again. But it isn't. It's far from that. Aside from Florence Pugh, and an underused Chris Pine, none of the cast give performances that amount to much either. Harry Styles proves he can't really act well in anything that requires complex, layered character work, so much so that they had to change his character to being blatantly British (his ethnicity is literally mentioned multiple times in the movie) because it seems he couldn't pull off a believalbe American accent. Despite all of this, Wilde tries to string together a movie that lives up to the "break free of the perfection" concept. But the audience is so far ahead of the characters in the movie, after 20 minutes we're wondering when they're going to figure out what's going and when they do, it's so lackluster and unsurprising it nearly ruins the rest of the film. Thankfully not entirely.
I am all for a movie that wants to teach us about how we need to stop being so obsessed with perfection and glamour and the ideal life in the ideal town with ideal neighbors and the ideal car. This is exactly what The Matrix accomplishes so well, including even in Resurrections, though it's a lesson few seem to have learned. It also seems Wilde hasn't learned much from The Matrix movies either, despite name dropping the original as her inspiration, because Don't Worry Darling feels like half of a movie. Everything up to the point where Morpheus helps Neo unplug and join them on the Nebuchadnezzar is as far as DWD gets in two hours when it suddenly ends. Freeing your mind isn't just about freeing it, it's about how to successfully rebuild yourself after you've freed your mind, as that is the hardest part. Real life isn't easy; yes it sucks sometimes, it's hard work all-the-times, but it's better to live in the "real world" than to implant yourself into the prison of the Matrix. At least that's what these movies want us to think. Are they successful at implanting that truth into our minds instead? Don't Worry Darling certainly fails at that… But it's an admirable attempt nonetheless.