What a plot! A talented and beautiful female director replaces the combative male star of her movie with her insanely famous pop-star boyfriend, which so angers her leading lady that the two stop speaking to the extent that you could cut the tension with a knife.
Now that would be a movie. What a bummer that all the drama in "Don't Worry Darling," only in theaters, happened off camera. What's on screen is a glossy, repetitive retread of "The Stepford Wives" with a dash of "The Truman Show" and no discernible personality of its own.
For actress Olivia Wilde, following her smash 2019 directing debut with "Booksmart," this film is a setback, not a career crusher as sexist internet trolls have it. Her talent still shines through the cracks of a stilted script about 1950s housewife Alice Chambers (a glorious Florence Pugh) living with her hubby Jack (Harry Styles) in a community where men call the shots.
Styles struggles to find depth in a role once intended for Shia LaBeouf, who has publicly insisted that he quit and was not fired by Wilde, who has remained mum about casting boyfriend Styles and her troubles with Pugh. "The internet feeds itself," Wilde told reporters earlier this month at a Venice International Film Festival press conference for the movie. Her focus is on the film.
As it should be. Without resorting to spoilers, "Don't Worry Darling" uses sci-fi speculation, psychological terror and flashes of wildcat humor to stick it to the patriarchy. Jack and his buddies drive each day to the California desert to toil on the secret Victory Project, run by Frank (Chris Pine, oozing charm and menace).
The wives, including Alice, Margaret (Kiki Layne), Shelley (Gemma Chan) and Wilde as Alice's brash next-door neighbor Bunny, shop, primp, play mom, sip cocktails by the pool and wait till their Mad Men-era husbands come home for sex. Or is it something more sinister?
If Alice is turned on going at it with Jack on the dining-room table, then why do we see her wrapping her head in plastic or imagining the walls closing in on her.
The underlying theme in the script by Katie Silberman is certainly timely, what with women's rights under assault today in ways that are all too real and frightening. But Wilde never delivers on the sharp-edged satire -- the kind that draws blood --that the setup promises.
Pugh, Oscar nominated for "Little Women" and indelibly impressive in films as diverse as "Midsommar" and "Black Widow," almost saves the day in a performance that truly gets under the skin of her character. At 26, Pugh already ranks with the best of her generation.
Still, Wilde burdens her with an uphill battle of a script topped with a big reveal you can see coming from outer space. Throwing in a car chase with a period Corvette and a tap dance routine from Styles look exactly like the desperation moves they are.
And yet there is still enough of a femcentric attack on what privileged white guys do in the name of progress to make "Don't Worry Darling" an urgent provocation. Wilde stumbles on the follow-through, but she's running on a platform that's unimpeachable.