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Don’t Worry Darling movie review: Harry Styles delivers wooden but not dreadful performance in silly and pretentious drama

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Florence Pugh and Harry Styles in Don't Worry Darling

Florence Pugh and Harry Styles in Don't Worry Darling

Chris Pine plays the founder of the Victory Project

Chris Pine plays the founder of the Victory Project

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Florence Pugh and Harry Styles in Don't Worry Darling

Don’t Worry Darling (16, 122mins)

Preceded by a certain amount of negative advance publicity, Olivia Wilde’s dystopian drama arrives in cinemas laden down with simmering tabloid subtexts: who hates whom, who sacked whom, who isn’t speaking to whom.

Happily, our task is not to pass judgement on the antics of histrionic celebrities, but to decide whether or not their film is worth going to see.

In visual terms, Don’t Worry Darling is a bit of a treat. Crisply photographed by Matthew Libatique, Wilde’s film takes place in a gated suburb in what looks like 1950s America.

Surrounded by high desert, bathed in constant sunshine, the inhabitants of Victory, California, seem enviably fortunate, and none more so than Alice and Jack Chambers (Florence Pugh, Harry Styles).

Loved up, passionately attracted to each other and child-free by choice, Jack and Alice live it up in a spacious bungalow, their high life funded by his mysterious job in the nearby ‘Victory Project’.

All the men work there under the benevolent supervision of Frank (Chris Pine), the project’s suave and smiling founder.

Every morning, the husbands don natty suits and coast off towards the nearby hills, leaving their stay-at-home wives to gossip, tend children if they have them and drink.

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Chris Pine plays the founder of the Victory Project

Chris Pine plays the founder of the Victory Project

Chris Pine plays the founder of the Victory Project

Alice is particularly friendly with next door neighbour Bunny (Olivia Wilde), who knows the ropes and offers scathing assessments of women who aren’t up to Victory’s high standards.

She’s talking about women like Margaret (KiKi Layne), a former friend of Alice’s who wandered out into the desert knowing it was strictly forbidden and now appears to have lost her mind.

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When Alice bumps into her at a work do, Margaret tries to explain that something is wrong and Alice begins to wonder if all is not quite as it seems in this idyllic town.

Spoilers prohibit me from advancing any further into Don’t Worry Darling’s plot, but it did at times feel as though one was watching a prolonged episode of The Twilight Zone.

Among the many online pile-ons this production has provoked, perhaps the cruellest has been the attack on Styles’ thespian bonafides.

In Don’t Worry Darling, his director and off-screen partner Wilde has paired him with Pugh, as instinctive and talented an actor as one could encounter.

And doing so seems a bit like cruelty to animals, for Styles, who’s only learning his trade, could not hope to compete with Pugh in terms of emotion and veracity.

And nor does he: Styles is a little wooden perhaps, but not as dreadful as some are suggesting. His problem, and indeed everyone else’s, is they are stranded in a silly and pretentious film that lacks the courage of its convictions.

The themes of male entitlement and America’s reactionary stampede to the right are explored, but only fitfully, and a late contextual reveal had me wishing I’d brought a few bread rolls to throw at the screen.

Pugh is excellent in a lost cause and Wilde brings much-needed wit to the proceedings as the catty neighbour, but Don’t Worry Darling is ultimately a hollow drum, nice to look at, but unedifying.


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