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The problem is that this movie just isn't very good: BRIAN VINER reviews Don't Worry Darling


Yet another cinematic expression of the feminist crusades exemplified by MeToo and Time’s Up. There’s nothing wrong with that… the problem is that this movie just isn’t very good: BRIAN VINER reviews Don’t Worry Darling

Don’t Worry Darling 

Rating:

Harry Styles says that he’s going to focus on music, not acting, in the future. Good for him – and lucky for us.

The pop superstar makes his leading-man debut in Don’t Worry Darling, the psychological thriller which had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival last night. It’s not that the former One Direction singer can’t act – he can.

It’s more that he seems a trifle mechanical alongside his co-star, the excellent Florence Pugh. They play a married couple, Jack and Alice Chambers, who live in the suburban utopia of Victory, California, a town of identikit 1950s homes and cars.

The men all work for a mysterious enterprise called the Victory Project, run by a creepy guru called Frank (Chris Pine).

BRIAN VINER: Harry Styles (pictured today at the Venice International Film Festival) says that he’s going to focus on music, not acting, in the future. Good for him – and lucky for us

BRIAN VINER: Harry Styles (pictured today at the Venice International Film Festival) says that he’s going to focus on music, not acting, in the future. Good for him – and lucky for us

They get home every day at the same time, where their wives have prepared dinner after an afternoon sunning themselves at the country club. In the background, commercials play on monochrome TV sets lauding the community’s conformist values.

Everyone in town is in thrall to Frank, with Jack and Alice equally in thrall to their loins. They can’t keep their hands off each other, with Jack especially interested in a certain sex act. One Direction in more ways than one, you might say, although these scenes are not nearly as steamy as some of the film’s rather frenzied publicity suggests.

The added twist, of course, is that the director Olivia Wilde (who also plays Alice’s best friend), is said to have fallen for Styles on set.

The added twist, of course, is that the director Olivia Wilde (pictured at the premier for Don't Worry Darling today) (who also plays Alice’s best friend), is said to have fallen for Styles on set

The added twist, of course, is that the director Olivia Wilde (pictured at the premier for Don’t Worry Darling today) (who also plays Alice’s best friend), is said to have fallen for Styles on set

It’s more that he seems a trifle mechanical alongside his co-star, the excellent Florence Pugh (at the Don't Worry Darling premiere)

It’s more that he seems a trifle mechanical alongside his co-star, the excellent Florence Pugh (at the Don’t Worry Darling premiere)

Whether before or after he flaunted his libido is the $64,000 question. The other question, worth a lot more than $64,000, is whether Don’t Worry Darling will succeed at the box office. Gradually, as Alice begins to realise that there is a sinister mind-control experiment going on, it becomes clear that this is a story about the subjugation of women: yet another cinematic expression of the feminist crusades exemplified by MeToo and Time’s Up.

There’s nothing wrong with that, even if a sudden narrative lurch into the modern world sends any pretence at subtlety crashing to the ground. No, the bigger problem is that Don’t Worry Darling just isn’t very good. Unhelpfully, it has echoes of much better films, such as the mid-1970s classics The Stepford Wives and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, and The Truman Show (1998).

Even George Clooney’s flawed Suburbicon (2017) explored some of the same themes more compellingly, not to mention the brilliant TV drama Mad Men. It’s a shame, because Pugh gives a fine, feisty performance as a housewife fighting social and psychological manipulation, and the film is great to look at throughout, with a cracking period soundtrack.

But it’s at least three parts style (and two parts Styles), to one part substance. Wilde and her screenwriter Katie Silberman teamed up to much greater effect to make their sparkling 2019 comedy Booksmart.

Not that there was any telling the hordes of girls screaming for Harry on the Venice Lido yesterday.

Don’t Worry Darling opens in the UK on September 23.

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