Due to a spiritual debt to “The Stepford Wives” with its carefully nurtured suburban image, there are also many more recent points of comparison, such as the George Clooney-directed “Suburbicon.” There’s even a dollop of “Edward Scissorhands” in the pastel vision of a perfect cul-de-sac where men lead single file to work while their wives dutifully wave goodbye.
Alice (Pugh) and her husband Jack (Harry Styles) seem to be living the dream, partying with her colleagues in the 1950s-style planned community where they all live. The two are incredibly hot for each other, almost sickening to hear Alice Bunny’s pal (played by Wilde) say so.
On closer inspection, however, it all seems a little too perfect, and therefore suspicious, starting with the fact that no one will explain exactly what they do while working for something called the Victory Project. There’s also a cult devotion to the boss, Frank (Chris Pine, like Pugh, a cut above the material), which compels his managers to enthusiastically accept that they’re “changing the world.”
If the goal is some kind of joyful conformity, it gives way to what feels like gaslighting when Alice begins to sense something is wrong, fueled by strange dreams, surreal images and the behavior of ‘a neighbour.
Based on a screenplay credited to Shane and Carey Van Dyke (Dick Van Dyke’s grandsons) with Katie Silberman of “Booksmart,” “Don’t Worry Darling” falls into the creative trap of following the one-episode pattern” The Twilight Zone,” just without the kind of reveal that would elevate it to this series’ most memorable level. While the film has something to say about gender politics and misogyny, it’s not articulated well enough to distinguish itself from a number of other films.
After Wilde’s impressive debut, one invariably waits to see if a filmmaker can achieve another success. By that measure, “Don’t Worry Darling” feels more like a modest setback than a big disappointment, but in the end, it’s hard to call this project a victory.
“Don’t Worry Darling” hits US theaters on September 23. It is rated R. The film is distributed by Warner Bros. Studios, which like CNN is part of Warner Bros. Discovery.