‘Don’t Worry Darling’ Olivia Wilde picks Styles over substance

There’s a scene in “Don’t Worry Darling” where Harry Styles, playing a character named Jack, is shown onstage at a large raucous gathering, spinning and capering before the crowd in a frenzied solo dance.

Capering and spinning. Spinning and capering. The camera cuts away briefly to another scene. Then returns to Styles. Capering and spinning. Spinning and capering. Cut away. Back it comes. And he’s still spinning. Still capering.

Conveying that Jack is a puppet, a prisoner, actually, of a Svengali-like figure played with silken malevolence by Chris Pine.

Pine’s character, Frank, is the mastermind ruling over a cultish upscale desert community where time has been frozen in the suburban 1950s, the era of “Father Knows Best” and “The Donna Reed Show.

The overt repetition of that dance incident is a recurring quirk of director Olivia Wilde’s handling of this story.

Whether it’s close-ups of coffee splashing in a cup or tight shots of a bloody raw steak or overhead views of dancers performing Busby Berkeley-style kaleidoscopic routines,

Wilde seems overly fond of her stylistic flourishes. There’s a sense of “look at me, look at this.” Points are made, then underlined, then hammered into the ground.

Don’t Worry Darling

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‘Don’t Worry Darling’ review: Olivia Wilde picks Styles over substance
Sep. 19, 2022 at 12:00 pm
Harry Styles, left, and Florence Pugh in “Don’t Worry Darling.” (Merrick Morton / Warner Bros. Pictures / The Associated Press)
Florence Pugh in “Don’t Worry Darling.” (Merrick Morton / Warner Bros. Pictures / The Associated Press)

There’s a scene in “Don’t Worry Darling” where Harry Styles, playing a character named Jack, is shown onstage at a large raucous gathering, spinning and capering before the crowd in a frenzied solo dance. Capering and spinning. Spinning and capering. The camera cuts away briefly to another scene. Then returns to Styles. Capering and spinning. Spinning and capering. Cut away. Back it comes. And he’s still spinning. Still capering.

On and on it goes.

Conveying that Jack is a puppet, a prisoner, actually, of a Svengali-like figure played with silken malevolence by Chris Pine. Pine’s character, Frank, is the mastermind ruling over a cultish upscale desert community where time has been frozen in the suburban 1950s, the era of “Father Knows Best” and “The Donna Reed Show.

The overt repetition of that dance incident is a recurring quirk of director Olivia Wilde’s handling of this story. Whether it’s close-ups of coffee splashing in a cup or tight shots of a bloody raw steak or overhead views of dancers performing Busby Berkeley-style kaleidoscopic routines, Wilde seems overly fond of her stylistic flourishes.There’s a sense of “look at me, look at this.” Points are made, then underlined, then hammered into the ground.

The points here are in support of a narrative in which ‘50s-era sexism rules the roost in the community of Victory where the men leave each morning in a synchronized departure of vintage cars (Jack’s ride is a cool black T-Bird, maybe a ’56 or a ’57) for a mysterious destination while their adoring wives stand out front of their spotless homes smiling synchronized goodbyes. Then they go inside to spend their days mopping floors and cleaning tubs.

When the husband returns from work, there’s the wife, glowing and smiling with cocktail glass in hand to greet him at the front door. Followed by sex on the kitchen counter.
Followed by a steak dinner. A departure from the “Father Knows Best” scenario there. The picture earns its R rating.

It’s creepy. And that’s the story’s point. It’s too perfect, and the perfection is toxic. It’s clean and bright and overwhelmingly white.

The screenplay by Katie Silberman, with whom Wilde previously collaborated on 2019’s “Booksmart,” a much more inventive and funnier picture, has little in the way of fresh ideas. And with the exception of Pine, the performances are undistinguished. Pugh seems oddly disengaged from Alice. She doesn’t own the part. And Styles’ work is often tinged with hysteria.

There’s nothing original in the movie. Indeed, the off-screen controversy that’s been consuming social media lately over the casting of pop superstar Styles and whether Pugh and Wilde are at odds overshadows the movie itself

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