(L-R) FLORENCE PUGH as Alice and HARRY STYLES as Jack in New Line Cinema’s ‘DON’T WORRY DARLING,’ a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures. © 2022 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved

Florence Pugh continues her successes in BLACK WIDOW, LITTLE WOMEN and MIDSOMMER with a role as a housewife in a candy-colored 1950s planned community in DON’T WORRY, DARLING, the second feature from actress-turned-director Olivia Wilde and its sequel -up to SMART BOOK. Harry Styles plays Pugh’s husband, Jack, who works at a remote desert research facility doing a mysterious top-secret job, while Alice (Florence Pugh) stays home to clean, shop, and drink by the sidelines. the pool with the other women at their home in the planned suburban community of Victory.

The film opens with a wild cocktail party, with the women in 50s waisted dresses and the men in period casual shirts, drinking martinis like water on a posh mid-century ranch. The next morning, the smiling wives prepare breakfast before sending their men off to work in a synchronized ride of candy-colored chrome cars from the desert subdivision, before the wives begin their day of housework and shopping.

Something DON’T WORRY DARLING does brilliantly is capture the mid-century period look, from tiny-waisted, full-skirted dresses in colorful floral patterns to elegant chrome-trimmed light wood furniture to cars “futuristic” trimmed with chrome. Other beautiful mid-century period touches in the decors and the immaculate appearance of the townhouses and courtyards complete the picture. This impressive art direction and solid performance by Florence Pugh, well presented by director Olivia Wilde, are the main reasons to see this clever but flawed sci-fi drama-thriller, but a much underrated and likeable performance by Harry Styles. adds a note of perfect grace.

The “Stepford Wives” vibe is palpable from the start, with all the smiling conformity and polished surface perfection, so we know something must be lurking beneath the surface. The film quickly creates the semblance of a Douglas Sirk film crossed with Sam Mendes’ 2008 REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, of a conformist, male-centric world that seems perfect on the surface – at least to some – but treads on a tightrope of hidden things. tensions. “Ideal” planned communities like this were a reality in the 1950s and early 1960s, born out of post-war optimism, where everything was planned and color-matched, with people who fit as exactly as the color coordinated mid-century ranch homes. The fact that this community development is isolated in remote desert locations next to the facility where the men all work (and only the men work), where a company does some sort of secret work, completes the picture. There are hints of a big project the company is working on, possibly a military contract, and again the Manhattan Project and Cold War nuclear weapons come to mind.

The thriving planned community is led by charismatic Victory CEO Frank (Chris Pine) and his stylish wife Shelley (Gemma Chan). Director Olivia Wilde also appears in the film as a neighbor named Bunny.

But only minutes later, and a scene upends some of our assumptions about Victory. Alice and her neighboring wives are participating in an exercise class when a black woman bursts in. Everyone turns and stares, and we expect racist outrage typical of the segregated 1950s. But no, they all know her, she’s a neighbor named Margaret (Kiki Layne), and what’s causing the drop jaws is her distraught emotional state. Clearly, she’s losing her mind, but it’s not sympathy that greets her, but talkative, snappy unease. Apparently, she’s been dealing with trauma, but the community would rather it be covered up and ignored, so they can return to cocktail hour in typical 50s style.

The scene reveals that things might not be quite what they seem, but even though we’re not in the past, there’s still plenty of time here. And there’s more to come in this sci-fi tale. DON’T WORRY DARLING is a clever idea, and while not everything in this film is perfect, Florence Pugh damn it is.

Florence Pugh is the main reason to see this film (along with the polished art direction), though it offers an interesting sci-fi fantasy tale with a female-centric bent. Pugh dominates every scene, capturing the right combination of young 50s housewife innocence and sense of person with more depth, heart and curiosity than some of the other Stepford-type wives. While the other wives relentlessly criticize the neighbor who is losing him, Pugh’s tender-hearted Alice wants to extend her understanding and even tries to contact her on her own. But what the troubled neighbor says is both confusing and disturbing, and involves breaking some of the fundamental rules of Victory society, rules that are required of families working on their secret project and that are the conditions of a life well paid and comfortable in the planned community.

While husbands drive cars to work, wives take a trolley that takes them to shops, schools, the gym, etc. from the city. The cart travels to the outskirts of the city, beyond which lies the desert, which they are told is dangerous. They are told not to venture there, for their own safety, and not to approach Victory’s headquarters. lest they endanger the secret work. Occasionally there are earthquake-like events, and the specter of something like underground nuclear weapons testing looms, but questions are prohibited under rules of secrecy.

We watch as Alice de Pugh’s open heart, curiosity, and previously untapped brain lead her down paths that threaten to uncover that which is hidden and upended. More cracks in the facade open with the arrival of a new couple, with Sydney Chandler as Violet, a shy, dark-haired wife of Audrey Hepburn.

Pugh handles Alice’s changing emotional state and changing character with impressive mastery. As we see Pugh’s Alice drawn into the mystery, her husband Jack becomes unstable. While Jack remains supportive and loving, other members of the community begin to change. Harry Styles is perfect as Jack, stepping back and letting the mighty Pugh shine, not getting in his way. Early in the development of this movie, there was talk of casting Shia LaBeouf in the role, an actor who would likely have fought Pugh for public attention, but the right casting choice was made. Harry Styles’ softer, understated performance makes for a more poignant and effective film.

However, all is not perfect in Olivia Wilde’s sci-fi drama, a big departure from her debut BOOK SMART, and the film starts stronger than it ends. Careful attention is needed to what is said in later scenes to unravel the mystery, but the story is well resolved by the end.

Still, DON’T WORRY DARLING is a film worth watching, as Florence Pugh continues her meteoric rise with another solid performance, and Olivia Wilde demonstrates her talent with a film that’s a stark departure from her first. Throw in a great performance for Harry Styles fans (including a surprise dance sequence) plus visual delights from the polished mid-century landscape and a sci-fi tale that empowers women, and you’ve got a value. enough entertainment to satisfy.

DON’T WORRY DARLING opens Friday, September 23 in theaters.

RATING: 2.5 out of 4 stars

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