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I’m trying to get my wife into a Martini glass.

Movie

Don’t Worry Darling
(2022)

 

If you’re of a mind to check back, you’ll see that I actually enjoyed Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, wokey high-school-graduation flick Booksmart. Possibly, battered by virtual signalling in movies left and right and centre subsequently, I wouldn’t be nearly as well-disposed towards it today. Regardless of content, though, and regardless of whether or not she’s aping others, Wilde clearly knows how to put a movie together. Don’t Worry Darling is most definitely indebted; she has referenced the likes of The Matrix in terms of its artificial-reality device, but mainly, you can see her salivating at the prospect of kudos for doing for gender what Get Out did for race (sticking it to toxic menfolk, in this case). Unfortunately for her, no one was buying. When the reveal comes, a sub-Stepford Wives riff on female subjugation, it can be taken only for what it is: abjectly shallow. So shallow, even Harry Styles fans weren’t on board.

On the subject of shallow, Olivia Wilde’s antics obviously need little introduction, since her every act seems to be about digging herself a deeper hole (one might, were one cynical, suggest there’s express intent in respect of this self-immolating process). The limits of Wilde’s awareness – and, to be fair, the awareness of Katie Silberman and Carey & Shane Van Dyke, the latter duo having written the original Black List script – are there for all to see in her dutiful nursing of Hegelian parameters. Most VR movies have their sites set at least a little bit higher. Nefarious types are creating an illusory world and humans are but the pawns. Not for Olivia, though, out for raves. Men are creating an illusory world – dirty, stinking, rotten sociopathic men, the lot of them – and women are the pawns. Poor, weak, fragile women, so easily controlled by their spouses and fed into a VR world where they perform dutiful caricatures of ’50s movies (with added cunnilingus). 

Wilde, who threw Eastwood’s (very good) Richard Jewell under a bus when it looked as if she might cop flack for the character she played, suggested the architect of the scheme in Don’t Worry Darling, Chris Pine’s Frank, was inspired by “insane” Jordan Peterson, “a pseudo-intellectual hero to the incel community”. Which is an interesting take, particularly from someone of such rare intellectual faculties that she didn’t realise the affront of her character Richard Jewell until she started copping flak. What Wilde’s really saying, since this is all about the most facile signalling, is that Peterson is anti-woke – and, by extension, since he’s opposed to crucifying men on an altar of toxic masculinity, he must also be a misogynist – and she’s superwoke. Which is to suggest, she might have presented a carefully curated argument recognising his influence as an academic in debates on gender, identity politics and political correctness, before critiquing his bit about men representing order and women chaos. Instead, since she led with “incel”. Peterson, in turn, gave a shrugging “Sure. Why not?” in respect of her attempt to incite, which is probably the best response.

Peterson labelled Don’t Worry Darlingthe latest bit of propaganda disseminated by the woke, self-righteous bores and bullies who now dominate Hollywood“. He also criticised the term “incel“, calling it a “casual insult” for men who are “lonesome and they don’t know what to do and everyone piles abuse on them“, and “the kind of derogatory slur compassionate progressives claim to eschew”. Have at her, Jordan.

Essentially, though, Wilde is, in her own consummately superficial fashion, only reacting to Peterson’s spin in the gender-wars bus. Keep getting distracted from the horizon, would be the entire point. In that respect, Don’t Worry Darling is as on point as Get Out (there’s even a line “Sink deeper into the way things are supposed to be”). It’s just that, by and large, Get Out is a good movie, even if it muddles its metaphors. Wilde hoped that, by sounding the gong that guys like Peterson think “we must be put back into the correct place”, she is blazing a trail. Rather than looking slightly pathetic for shagging Harry Styles (this goes vice versa for Harry too).

And the movie? Well, if Wilde had led her argument with the aforementioned “chaos”, and Don’t Worry Darling had chosen a slightly more nuanced path (rather than brandishing a bludgeon), it’s just conceivable there might have been something worth developing. In the current landscape, it’s doubtful, but movies dealing with paradigms are ripe for having the same probed (so rather than simply presumed social trends, addressing the engineering that goes into them, and to what ends. The idea that the husbands’ work in the simulation relates to the “development of progressive materials” is actually pretty funny, and arch in a way nothing else here is). Early on, Frank (Chris Pine) alludes to Peterson’s creed, to that “enemy of progress, chaos” (“Merciless foe, that chaos”). 

The alt-reality/ ”What is going on?” chugs along fairly agreeably for a spell. Not long enough to justify ninety minutes before we get an explanatory flashback, but I’m nevertheless a sucker for these kinds of false-reality scenarios, even if they fail to pay off (as here). The reveal, though, is hopelessly regressive. I don’t mean on the part of the men doing the subjugation, but rather Wilde and Silberman flogging the “oppressed” horse for all its worth. 

Even critics largely agreed. Which isn’t like them, usually getting in line to nod sagely for fear of being shut out in the cold. One might pick holes in the scenario: why does killing someone in the simulation kill them in real life? Why is there a whacking great exit portal in the simulation, ready and waiting for dissatisfied, oppressed and enslaved women to stumble across repeatedly? What was the deal with that aeroplane (the answer would appear to be Alice’s mind conjuring it, but that suggests all sorts of possibilities that are entirely unexplored)? Isn’t it asking for trouble, setting this thing up and keeping the incels at home and at work in tiny apartments in the real world (it is, basically, pretty silly, above and beyond anything else, that the escape they’re after isn’t even an escape; they’re still stuck with the 9-to-5, with added care and maintenance to attend to)? Obviously, none of that is the point. These incels – I mean not incels; they can get women, right? They’re just garden-variety toxic males – will move mountains to oppress their womenfolk, because just like Olivia, deep down, they don’t care about such essentials as openness, empathy and compatibility. 

In a movie without such tyrannies to shout and scowl about, one might take some comfort from reading an array of allusions into the scenario. Such as the forbidden desert representing Antarctica or some such. Dismayingly, Wilde’s zipper-tight approach shuts that one’s butt down. Unless the men aren’t really representing men at all, but rather the Elite and their masters, and the women are the world, the people. Yes 

Harry Styles simply isn’t very good as Jack (and evidently, he couldn’t do the accent so a reason for Jack being British has been written in). Wilde eerily resembles a rictus-drag artist as Bunny, which may explain a lot. Florence Pugh is really good as Alice, even if she has played something not entirely dissimilar before (Midsommar). Gemma Chan’s role is minimal and thankless. Pine is having fun. Along the way, there’s the odd scene – where Frank reveals he knows Alice knows – that suggests this might go somewhere much more interesting than it does. Alas.

Don’t Worry Darling is an airhead’s approximation of a meaningful movie, led on by its high concept. Woke premise = green light is a no-brainer, of course, particularly since you don’t even have to come up with a hit. I kind of liked it, all that said. Until I didn’t.

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