Film review: Don’t Worry Darling
Don’t Worry Darling Two stars In cinemas; Cert 16
I think I’ll have more fun talking about Don’t Worry Darling than I did watching it. Indeed, the salacious, top-shelf scandal surrounding this starry, psychological thriller from second-time filmmaker Olivia Wilde is infinitely more interesting than the resulting film.
Here we are, the week of its release, and already Don’t Worry Darling is a proper pop-culture phenomenon; a once-in-a-blue-moon Hollywood gossip-spinner that has nothing to do with the picture on screen, and everything to do with the people behind it.
You’ve no doubt seen the headlines. There is the alleged fallout between its accomplished director (Wilde) and her prestigious star (the inimitable Florence Pugh). See also the so-called sacking of its original leading man (Shia LaBeouf, who says he quit) and the subsequent drama involving his replacement, Harry Styles (he and Wilde became romantically involved on set).
Then, of course, we have the recent hoo-ha at the Venice International Film Festival, where Pugh was curiously absent from promotional duties and poor Styles was accused of spitting on his co-star, Chris Pine. Can we talk about the film now?
Disregarding the gossip, Wilde’s handsomely assembled feature has everything going for it. An acclaimed storyteller behind the wheel. An Oscar-nominated star at its centre. One of the world’s most famous men in its frame. It’s a shame, then, to find the screenplay – a noisy hodgepodge of big ideas from bigger, better films – in such a sorry, shapeless state.
We begin in 1950s suburbia. Alice Chambers (Pugh) and husband Jack (Styles) enjoy an idyllic existence in the company town of Victory, a state-of-the-art yet soulless utopia where all the men dress like Frank Sinatra and all the women do exactly as their husbands tell them to.
The chaps all work for the mysterious Victory Project, and nobody is allowed to talk about what it involves (something about the “development of progressive materials”).
Meanwhile, the wives stay at home, cook and clean for their spouses, and try to ignore the random mini earthquakes that occur on a daily basis. Victory’s president – a chilly, cultish type by the name of Frank (Chris Pine at his slipperiest) – says they’re changing the world, but we’re not so sure.
Neither, it seems, is Alice. She and Jack are Victory’s star couple, and he’s in line for a big promotion at work. But when poor Alice witnesses a disturbing incident involving the wife of a Victory employee, she begins asking questions about what’s really going on in this sideways wonderland.
Her neighbour Bunny (Wilde) tries to keep a lid on things, as does Jack, but it’s no use, and Alice is unable to shake the feeling that her entire world is one big lie. Things get weird.
Wilde’s second feature is a trickier, denser affair than her first. There is little use comparing the two, but at least 2019’s Booksmart – a top-notch coming-of-ager with killer punchlines and a killer cast – knew what it was at. In contrast, this wearisome, wobbly cross between The Stepford Wives and The Truman Show seems terribly unsure of itself.
Like all great cinematic mishaps, the problems start on the page, and Katie Silberman’s screenplay, though loaded to the gills with tantalising themes and compelling concepts, isn’t nearly as well thought out as it thinks it is.
A senseless, derivative satire? I’m afraid so, and Don’t Worry Darling’s third act reveal is so inherently preposterous it almost caused me to fall out of my seat.
True, it’s a fabulous looking film but an annoyingly hollow one, and not everyone comes out of it with their dignity intact.
Pugh, though, is an exception. Her incandescent turn is one of the few joys of this useless and largely witless endeavour, and Wilde’s shaky direction struggles to match the intensity of Pugh’s remarkable performance.
The less said about Harry, however, the better. God love him (nobody else here will), but the most famous pop star on the planet is trying really, really hard to make this acting lark work for him. Perhaps that’s the issue.
Every movement is over-rehearsed – every line over-enunciated and over-cooked. There is an argument – and one that will only make sense after you’ve seen the film – that his character is supposed to be awkward and unconvincing, but that’s probably giving him more credit than he deserves.
What a mess, but hey, I can’t wait to watch a documentary about the making of this thing.
IFI & selected cinemas; No cert
Artificial intelligence is here to stay so we might as well get used to it. Almost 40 years on from James Cameron’s The Terminator, this ethereal sci-fi drama from writer-director Kogonada offers a more cuddly take on what androids preoccupying our day-to-day thoughts might look like.
Showing a sustained devotion to working with the most interesting filmmakers in the game, Colin Farrell is Jake, a family man and tea maker in some future Asian suburb. Yang (Justin H Min), the “techno-sapien” that Jake and wife Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith) acquired as a companion for their adopted daughter, is broken.
Ordinarily, recycling and replacement would be the options pursued, but the family has grown attached to the polite robot. Jake sets out to find any way he can to repair Yang. In doing so, he finds the lines between human and machine inevitably blurring.
The warm atmospherics and clean interiors – cinematographer Benjamin Loeb deserves praise – provide a meditative waft to a film that wears its philosophical substance lightly. This setting and the muted colour tones serve to coat an already gorgeous cast in a mesmeric blush. Hilary White
IFI & selected cinemas; No cert
In this perceptive morality tale from Polish debutante Aga Woszczyńska, trouble smoulders its way into paradise. In line with a certain brand of Eastern European drama, Silent Land spells out the fragile foundation of moral fibre in a way that is unflinchingly cold and businesslike.
Adam (Dobromir Dymecki) and Anna (Agnieszka Zulewska) are the outwardly perfect couple who arrive to their Italian villa on vacation. When they discover the swimming pool is empty, they contact the landlord who sends a migrant worker to get it working.
An accident results in the worker’s death, and the holiday becomes consumed with police interviews and analysis about how much they did and didn’t do in the aftermath of the tragedy.
Amid an exotic setting lacking the streamlined efficiency they are used to, a low-level tension bubbles up through the cracks in their relationship as the gravity of events comes into sharper focus.
There is real mastery apparent in Woszczyńska’s film (co-written with Piotr Litwin). Subtle, sly imagery quakes loudly around the impossibly picturesque couple, as slow-panning shots depict an uncaring world turning away in the background. Hilary White
It is in Us All
IFI & selected cinemas; Cert 15A
Crisp, suave London professional Hamish (Cosmo Jarvis) lands in Ireland one evening, rents a car at the airport, and sets off for Donegal where his late aunt has left her house to him.
A tragic accident en route results in a local teenager dying and Hamish’s car being written off. He awakes in hospital disoriented and beaten up and decides he will stay on to recover in his aunt’s fine seaside abode.
This is the land of his late mother, however, and he finds his smooth exterior increasingly tested by some intangible connection to a place that threatens to break him down but also rebuild him. The catalyst is a local teenage boy (Rhys Mannion), a survivor from the recent crash who approaches Hamish offering what appears to be friendship.
Writer-director (and cast member) Antonia Campbell-Hughes depicts an outsider’s vision of a remote Ireland that is as dreary and haunting as it is heady.
Hamish’s journey provides backbone against frequent shots of moody hills and bleak bogs, with Jarvis (Calm with Horses, Lady Macbeth) a reliably visceral presence as the pristine Londoner far from his comfort zone. Hilary White