That was the longest Black Mirror episode ever.
Don’t Worry Darling’s media circus was definitely attention-getting, drawing in everyone online like moths to a flame. However, the movie itself isn’t quite as engaging. Don’t Worry Darling follows 1950s housewife Alice (Florence Pugh) as she discovers that her perfect world and her perfect husband, Jack (Harry Styles), aren’t what they seem. The highlights of this film were the big twist reveal and the performances from Florence Pugh, Chris Pine, and Gemma Chan. The coloring is bright and eye-catching, as are the costumes and makeup. The idea at the heart of the screenplay is strong, but the writing and directing falter in executing it. And while the other actors give amazing performances, it becomes increasingly clear over the course of the movie that Harry Styles can’t pull his weight. Spoilers ahead.
Let’s get into the Harry Styles dilemma first, since he is undoubtedly one of the biggest selling points for this movie. Styles, unfortunately, flounders in a sea of A-list actors. In the first half of the movie, he does well playing the charismatic husband. But it’s the moments when the reality’s cracks begin to show, when the true darker nature of the real “Jack” is supposed to be slipping through, that he fails to deliver the nuances the character requires. Maybe if he had been acting opposite actors more of his caliber, but the thing is, he’s not. Styles is thrown in the deep end, surrounded by stars whose acting talent totally outshines him, making his performance come off worse while you’re watching than it may actually be.
At one point in my theater, we all began to laugh at him. For what, exactly, I can’t say. It happened when he’s screaming in the car after Alice has been taken, one of the most emotionally intense scenes in the movie (or at least, it’s supposed to be). And yet, there’s something about Styles that makes his attempts at acting out any darker emotion beyond basic lighthearted charm in vain.
I understand what Wilde was trying to go for with this casting. She wanted to show that the charming nice guys who seem to dedicate themselves to “taking care” of their female partners are the most dangerous threats. But Promising Young Woman did this better with the casting of Bo Burnham as the movie’s romantic lead. Styles looks the part but can’t pull off the dualism the role requires.
Pugh, meanwhile, gives this movie her all, even if she hasn’t since given her all to promote it. Her long looks, tense body language, panicked and exhausted breathing—Florence Pugh creates an entire unsettling environment with her performance alone. This sense of unease is essential for any thriller, and the screenplay lends her a hand with eggs that are just shells, a crashing plane, and walls closing in. But the twist reveal offers no answers for why these things happen.
The other great talents besides Pugh like Chris Pine, Gemma Chan, and KiKi Layne are all underused and underdeveloped. KiKi Layne’s character Margaret requires extra scrutiny. The only Black woman in the Victory Project kills herself and serves as the inciting incident for Alice to question her reality. The only moment of gore or violence that’s shown fully onscreen beyond Frank’s death is Margaret slitting her own throat. Once again, Black bodies are brutalized to serve as a motivator for the white protagonist. This is a trope that spans across movies of all genres, and we’re seeing it played out again here. Much of Layne’s screen time was apparently cut, leaving one to wonder how much more of a role she played in the movie. Whatever the case, Margaret’s character is reduced to a plot device, a sacrificial lamb to motivate the white protagonist and move the story along.
What’s more, Alice’s refusal to believe Margaret until she kills herself makes Alice a perpetrator of the very system that she ultimately rebels against. Perhaps this is a commentary on the way white women will silence and oppress Black women when they try to speak out on issues of sexism that affect them, only for white women to co-opt Black women’s voices and speak out against sexism when it starts to affect themselves, too. Though, I can’t say whether the movie really tries to address that because Margaret’s character and Alice’s relationship with her are weakly developed.
Don’t Worry Darling has a plot twist that is social commentary made for our generation, for a world post-MeToo drowning in the rise of fascism and emasculated men grappling for control via toxic masculinity from figures like Andrew Tate. The Victory Project depicts the unending cycle of the oppressive patriarchy, including the way women’s refusal to believe each other plays a crucial role. The Victory Project is simply what would happen if (when) emasculated incel men use the Metaverse to make women their sex slaves. It’s very Black Mirror, using futuristic technology to expose societal issues and warn of a dark future. The fact that this is so close to our reality is what makes the movie so scary. Jack even listens to a podcast from an “alpha male” that radicalizes him into joining the program to force Alice to be his perfect, submissive 1950s housewife.
This makes Don’t Worry Darling a Get Out-esque narrative but for white women. The movie’s aesthetics and feminist horror are in the same vein as The Handmaid’s Tale or The Stepford Wives. It’s about the lies men tell women to control them, like the themes of Midsommar, The Invisible Man, or Scream. A common factor among these movies is that their protagonists are all white women. Like them, Don’t Worry Darling is a movie by and for white women. I wish it would serve as a warning for young women dating men like Jack, but those women are probably just like Alice, who ignores or is blind to the problems in her relationship until they nearly destroy her. Even then, she second-guesses herself before setting herself free, which perhaps in itself is a veiled critique of the way the patriarchy forces white women to become reliant on it for a sense of “safety.”
Overall, Don’t Worry Darling gets a 3.5/5 General score. It’s a well-made movie with strong performances from most of the cast. The kernel of truth at the center of the movie is intriguing material. It doesn’t deserve the low score it has on Rotten Tomatoes, but the screenplay definitely leaves much to be desired. I left the theater with many questions. In some cases, that’s a good thing. Here, not so much.
Don’t Worry Darling gets a 3.5/5 Incluvie score. The main cast are all white women and men, and the treatment of the singular Black woman brought the Incluvie score down quite a bit. At least Gemma Chan’s character Shelley gets a rebellious moment in the end where she gets to stab her husband, which comes out of the blue and so feels less than earned. I suppose Florence Pugh’s performance alone is feminism enough.
Don’t Worry Darling is in theaters now.