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No, ‘Don’t Worry Darling’ isn’t as bad as they say it is

by Richard Foltz 2 months ago in entertainment
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By now you’ve probably heard the reviews, seen the Rotten Tomatoes score, and read all about the supposed controversy. I’d like to explain to you that, no, this movie isn’t that bad. Quite the contrary, I actually kinda liked it.

I don’t like doing reviews.

Mostly, it’s simply because no matter how objective a person intends to be, subjectivity is bound to creep in. Plus, it’s art, goddamn it. Even if it’s a big-budget film, it’s still the work of a lot of people sitting down, by themselves or with their collaborators, trying to say something. It doesn’t always work, but even then — as the films of Ed Wood or the bevy of amazing, but technically “bad” monster movies and slasher films can attest to — it’s still art. It still means something to somebody or someday might.

Besides, critiques just prime audiences, and then those audiences come back and regurgitate exactly what they read on the internet, or what their particular small online community told them a movie was or would be. We see this a lot lately. From the MCU to the next A24 film, to the big winner at the year’s independent film awards, there’s always somebody telling us what a piece of art is before we have the chance to take it in for ourselves.

And what is a critique other than a product review? But here’s the thing, films aren’t just products. I mean, they are. But, less so than a desk, a chair, or a cellphone. What you get when you see a movie is a bunch of people attempting to make “art” no matter how silly that might seem to you as you watch a muscular person in spandex punch another muscular person in spandex.

But, I mean, who am I to judge? I grew up in podunk Ohio, reading Shakespeare back-to-back with Batman. And I would argue that there’s merit in all attempts at art, whether it be the poetic verse of comic absurdity, no matter what some snooty leather-elbow-pad-wearing critic in some far-flung metropolis tells you.

So, with that out of the way, I would like to say that Don’t Worry Darling is a flawed but interesting take on gender, politics, and on the levers that twist those two things. To put it concisely, Don’t Worry Darling is a film about the realities of sex and love and how when somebody sells you an antiquated dream, what they’re really selling you is a dream. Nothing more.

Forewarning: Spoilers ahead.

A lot of the preamble to this film’s release has circled around tabloid-esque news headlines revolving around Olivia Wilde’s relationships — both with her current boyfriend and her ex-husband —, with whether or not her boyfriend spat on Chris Pine (I’m gonna say he didn’t), and Wilde’s relationship with the film’s star, Florence Pugh. Who many speculate didn’t show up at the film’s premiere because of a fight between her and Wilde. Most likely, Florence Pugh, whose celebrity has been rising since Midsommar, was just busy. I don’t know, I don’t think it’s the first time people who’ve worked together might’ve been a little annoyed with each other.

To be frank with you, I don’t care about any of that. Number one, who the director dates is none of my business and I find it strange that there’s a sort of double-standard that Olivia Wilde is dating somebody a decade younger than her when he ex-husband (and I love Jason Sudekis — Ted Lasso is a wonderful show) was married to her when she a decade younger than him. Also, he is currently dating a model who is a decade younger than him, or was. I don’t know, and I don’t really care. I just wanted to point out that frankly, it’s all pretty sexist.

Number two. Have directors been hard to deal with assholes? Umm, yeah.

So, with that out of the way, the film…finally.

The film has taken a lot of heat from critics and from, well, people like me: cis-gender white guys. Jordan Peterson cried on Piers Morgan after he heard that Wilde called him the “Incel King”. Something I didn’t know about when I first saw the film but watching that clip after the fact is fascinating because…yeah, she probably meant it. And yeah, he probably deserved it. But, although the film lobs a lot of criticism at white male entitlement, I think it also does a lot to explain the societal pressures that lead to some men slinking down that path.

I think I read one review that said, “all the men are bad guys and all the women are good guys.” Which, isn’t true. Not really. Each character is complex and even the women who choose to live this ‘50s-esque antiquated dream-life, have valid reasons for wanting to. Which is something that you’d probably find in the real world. Are there women who think that a society based on a male-dominant family and a male-dominant world is the right way to go? Sure. Does it mean that they’re, I don’t know, dense or unaware? No. I think people have valid reasons for trudging down the avenues they do.

Honestly, the film has some problems. I mean, I remember in the final moments, as a character finally gets their revenge on Chris Pine’s character after seeming to be on his side from the get to thinking, “Why didn’t they do that earlier?” Especially, in this case, when the said character had so many chances to do the final act of betrayal leading up to this.

And yeah, some of the character motivations are off. In the final moments, as Florence Pugh’s protagonist Alice is about to leave, she stops and imagines her husband, Harry Styles’ Jack coming up behind her and giving her a loving hug. It seems strange because this is (SPOILERS) a man who has tricked her into leading a life where she is in a perpetual 1950s So-Cal dreamworld that seems beautiful and perfect on the surface, but is obviously a cage. He does this by strapping her to a bed in their shared apartment and keeping her alive as she exists in a constant dream-state.

His reasons for this? Well, he lost his job and feels emasculated by her being the sole breadwinner, and he takes that frustration and inability to, as is the hegemonic narrative in Western civilization, provide for his significant other. This frustration is exacerbated then by a Jordan Peterson-esque online commentator played by Pine.

For some people, this might be the breaking point in the story. The whole “it’s all a dream” cliche is as tired as tired gets, but for me, considering the fact that it deals with this inherent American dream wherein men are providers and life is calm and comfortable like the way it was in film and TV from the ’50s, it seems an apt metaphor. Plus, visually, it’s striking. I felt genuinely shocked as Jack went back to his computer to slap on his headphones and delve deeper into an internet pit of self-betterment, especially in an age where I can’t watch a YouTube video about college sports without getting inundated with ads about ads targeted at young, often lonely men who just want to be what society has told them they’re supposed to be: strong, self-reliant, and a force to be reckoned with and admired by the women in their lives and their community.

The narratives that are told to growing, impressionable men are gross and scary, and although this is very much a movie about male entitlement and the damage patriarchal idealism has on women, it’s also a movie about how those narratives affect men.

Is the plot device the most creative or original idea there is? No, but neither are most that are used in narrative media. Just because this feels like something from a Twilight Zone episode from nearly a century ago doesn’t mean it’s not good. Stories rehash the same tropes over and over again. Buck Rogers begets Star Wars and so on.

So, yeah, ultimately, this is a pretty decent movie that I would recommend. I have read reviews that have criticized the plot and so on and so forth, but I think it holds together for the most part. Is it a masterpiece? No, but it ain’t the worst film of the year, and frankly, considering the moment we’re in where gender is very much an ongoing understanding of what it’s like on the other side of the genre line, I think it has a lot to say about what it feels like for both women…and men. And for that, I’m very appreciative of its existence.


About the author

Richard Foltz

Hey, my name is Richard Foltz. I refuse to use my first name because it is the name of frat guys and surfers, so...

I've written for years and currently work as an editor for my university's newspaper.

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