[Screen It]


(2022) (Florence Pugh, Harry Styles) (R)

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Suspense/Thriller: A woman must contend with learning that her idyllic married life in a seemingly perfect neighborhood is anything but that.

In a desert oasis community known as Victory, life seems idyllic for its various residents. While the men -- such as Jack Chambers (HARRY STYLES) -- go off to work at the nearby top-secret Victory Project -- created and run by Frank (CHRIS PINE) who also serves as the community's cultish leader -- the wives, including Jack's, Alice (FLORENCE PUGH), and her best friend, Bunny (OLIVIA WILDE) -- who's married to Dean (NICK KROLL) -- are free to do what they like and enjoy themselves. As long as they please and otherwise are present for their husbands.

No one questions how lucky they are or the order of things. That is, except for Margaret (KIKI LAYNE) who asks why they're all there, with most everyone believing she's having some sort of mental breakdown. Alice isn't sure, what with experiencing weird visions and dreams herself, but things really come to a head when Alice spots a plane crash out in the desert, which leads her to the forbidden Victory Project headquarters. There, she sees something but passes out, only to wake up back at home.

She then has more odd visions and begins asking questions that don't sit well with the rest, such as Frank's wife, Shelley (GEMMA CHAN). That results in Dr. Collins (TIMOTHY SIMONS) prescribing medication for her and Alice begins questioning her sanity. As she continues trying to solve her troubling predicament, she finds herself in danger.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10

Aside from vocation-based sadists, few people like hostile work environments and workplace strife. That's especially true for those who have no other employment options or otherwise love what they do, and I feel for those stuck in such jobs and places that give them stomach aches, tension headaches, or worse. That is, unless they're rich and famous and bring it upon themselves.

That's especially true on movie sets. Yes, it can be bad for those low on or at the bottom of the Hollywood ladder who have little say and no power and thus must deal with egos and the behavior of spoiled brats. But I don't feel for the latter who don't know how good they have it and how miserable they're making others.

At the same time, when I hear of such strife, my "Is it real, or is it fabricated" radar lights up. As Oscar Wilde once said, "There's only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about," while P.T. Barnum chimed in with "There's no such thing as bad publicity" and "Any kind of publicity is good publicity as long as they spell your name right."

Hollywood gossip and other entertainment publications and shows have certainly done the latter regarding alleged bad behavior and discord on and off the set of actor-director Olivia Wilde's sophomore directorial effort, "Don't Worry Darling." From her and former star Shia LeBeouf battling it out over why the latter was removed or left the film during production to tales of conflict between the director and lead actress Florence Pugh to co-star Harry Styles allegedly spitting on fellow co-star Chris Pine during a publicity event, and more, the film has had its fair share of tabloid controversy.

And thus publicity, which aroused my suspicions regarding whether someone associated with the film and its release decided that alerting the masses to such incidents -- real or fabricated -- could heighten or drive interest in the film. Which is something that sometimes is done if the final product might otherwise flounder at the box office due to not being good and thus generating negative word of mouth.

And thus, I sat down for my screening of this pic wondering if I'd see any signs of such strife or whether this was much ado about nothing beyond hopes of generated hype covering for a lackluster or maybe even bad offering. Having now seen the film, I can report that thankfully none of that shows, but the end result is just sort of "meh," neither great nor awful.

If anything, the flick is going to remind many of either or both previous versions of "The Stepford Wives." After all, they and this story -- penned by Katie Silberman -- revolve around a seemingly idyllic suburban setting where the men work, the women are happy to stay home and serve as housewives, and everything seems hunky dory. That is, except for the newcomer who realizes something sinister is afoot, thus putting her in danger once the others realize she's on to them and is about to tip the boat, so to speak.

The twist here -- at least the minor early one (the whopper is waiting in the wings for near the end of the third act) -- is that's not how it plays out. It's first an established resident (Kiki Layne) who's questioning the order of things and why they're all there, followed by her friend, Alice (Pugh), eventually doing the same.

They live in the desert oasis community of Victory that resides near the top-secret headquarters where all the husband work, including Alice's hubbie (Styles). Literally like clockwork, the men all leave their homes at the same time and drive in their 1950s-era vehicles to work, return home at the end of the day for a waiting drink, and do more of the latter with everyone else on the weekends.

Alice, though, has been having odd visions and has a mysterious song she can't get out of her head. When she witnesses something quite troubling happen with Layne's character, her suspicions of something not being right increase, although both her husband, Jack, and best friend (Wilde) dismiss those. But after an unplanned trip out to HQ happens and she passes out only to wake up back at home, things progressively worsen, especially with Jack's boss and Victory planner and motivational guru Frank (a perfectly smarmy Chris Pine) going all charming meets creepy passive aggressive on her.

Things pretty much play out as expected, including the big, M. Night Shyamalan-style twist that might have looked good on paper, but doesn't play out on the screen with as much shock and awe as hoped. The bigger problem for me, though, is that I really didn't care, although Pugh certainly gives it her all and pumps more, well, character into her part than presumably was present in the script.

If anything -- especially if you're into such things -- all of the tabloid material surrounding the project is certainly more intriguing than the finished product, so kudos I guess to those who cooked it up or at least put some extra publicity coals on that fire. "Don't Worry Darling" rates as a 5 out of 10.

Posted September 23, 2022

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