Don’t Worry Darling exposes the incredibly complicated art of valuable social commentary. Truly, the goal of any film is to explore the universal truths of life; to examine the hardships and wonders of humanity. And social commentary serves as a fantastic lens through which to shine that light.
But something must be said about the structural foundation of a film. Because any ole movie can have larger aspirations, can hope to deliver a thoughtful critique of society that forces the viewer to gain a deeper understanding of the world. Right? But not every film has the same spark; the same punch to the gut that recalibrates your cerebration. Something key separates a great film from a good film—or, in the case of Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling, a great film from a pretty incompetent one.
“Bad foundation” isn’t exactly the sexiest complaint about a movie. Because plot mechanics, character exposition, logical storytelling—who cares, right? That stuff is secondary to the message of a film. Those rather mundane elements of a film ultimately aren’t what makes a movie great—the message
However…those elements do allow the message to take shape, to be alluring and stimulating and reflective. You don’t need an overly complicated plot, but you do need all the pieces to connect; you don’t need lots of character exposition, but you do want to understand their basic motivations and desires. Those elements don’t necessarily need to be complicated—but they must exist. And they must be interesting. These pieces create a safety net for the film. So as a filmmaker is exploring these cryptic truths of life (which we forever seem to be grappling with), you’re able to keep in step with the plot and characters without even thinking about it.
But during Don’t Worry Darling, all I could do was wonder about all the stupid details that shouldn’t matter when watching a film. (Spoilers ahead!) Why was the Victory Project the only option for Jack’s (Harry Styles) sad life? Why did Alice (Florence Pugh) have visions, while other women didn’t? Why did we see the same dancing sequence so many times? And my biggest question: why the heck did Shelley (Gemma Chan) stab Frank (Chris Pine)?!
The most frustrating part is that there are answers for all these questions. But they don’t lie within the construction of the world—they lie within the blueprint of the film’s social commentary. It doesn’t matter why Jack chose Victory—all that matters is that Jack embodies the threat to American masculinity. It doesn’t matter why most of the women never realize they’re stuck in a simulation—all that matters is that Alice represents the courage to break free from oppression. It doesn’t matter why you see that dance sequence so many times—all that matters is recognizing the groupthink message pushed on women in society.
And Travis! It doesn’t matter why Shelley stabbed Frank—all that matters is…actually, I haven’t figured that one out yet. Something to do with toppling the patriarchy?
That’s what makes the social commentary so frustrating in Don’t Worry Darling: it’s obvious, and it’s feeble. The message is strong because the message is strong inherently: the threat to American masculinity directly coincides with a changing culture and growing male depression rates; there’s a looming dissatisfaction with life that can lead to societal displacement; the fight for change does require the Alices of the world to fight back. Of course that’s all true!
But a movie isn’t supposed to show me what’s true, because…I know what’s true. Duh. A movie shouldn’t just preach to the choir, because those people already agree. And a movie shouldn’t just oppose the naysayers, because the naysayers will just keep naysaying. Instead, a movie is supposed to artistically capture the truth. To display the truth in new, thought-provoking ways. To challenge society to be better and to do better.
And at the base of that approach lies the foundation. Your ideas are nothing without strong characters, without an interesting story, without a world that’s full of moving parts that pull all those pieces together. Without all that, all the style and charisma in the world can’t save your movie.
In fact, the aesthetic will never take off in the first place. That’s why Don’t Worry Darling feels stilted when it should feel exhilarating, feels repetitive when it should be rising to greater heights, feels silly when it should be absolutely terrifying. For me, the movie just always felt a little off because it…well, never turned on. I knew what the movie was about when I watched the trailer. So how was I challenged while watching it? The honest answer is: I wasn’t. Because I couldn’t see myself in characters that didn’t add up, in a world that didn’t connect, in a plot that ultimately didn’t make much sense.