Don’t Worry Darling (2022)
Written by Carey Van Dyke, Shane Van Dyke, and Katie Silberman
Directed by Olivia Wilde
On May 16, 2021, it was reported that AT&T had been offered to divest interest in WarnerMedia and merge it with Discovery Inc to form a new publicly traded company. The following month it was revealed that the new name of this company would be Warner Bros. Discovery. On March 11, 2022, the merger was approved by Discovery’s shareholders, and the processor of compliance with regulators from around the world began. By the summer of 2022, the deal was done. David Zaslav was named CEO of this newly merged company, and throughout August and September 2022, he oversaw the reorganization of HBOMax. This garnered significant media attention as dozens of programs and films were shelved. Some had been complete for a while, while others were in the midst of production or post-production. The reasoning behind pulling this content was cited as to balance the significant debt handed over to Discovery from their acquisition. The removal of these pieces of entertainment would allow Warner Bros. Discovery to write the losses off on taxes. In September, the company announced they only had the finances to release two films for the remainder of 2022: Black Adam and Don’t Worry Darling.
The company town of Victory, California, is an idyllic place styled like the late 1950s. Alice Chambers (Florence Pugh) lives with her husband Jack (Harry Styles), whom she pampers before and after he and the rest of the men leave for work every morning. But something in Alice tells her this is wrong. Her life has a sense of artifice, and she’s not the only one noticing it. Her neighbor Margaret (Kiki Layne) is also having a mental health crisis, but the other men try to minimize & hide it. Alice begins to clash with the corporation’s leader Frank (Chris Pine), who sees her as a fun challenge until she becomes unrelenting. As the truth of her reality begins falling down around her, Alice eventually understands the truth about her life, and her marriage to Jack is revealed for what it truly is. A lie.
One more thing. Before I give you my full opinion, I need to talk about Olivia Wilde. In May 2019, she made her directorial debut with the high school comedy Booksmart. The film was a pleasant surprise, a very smartly written comedy that never talks down to teens and appeals to adults. The excitement around this next project, Don’t Worry Darling was very high. But we need to know some more about this filmmaker. Olivia Wilde was born Olivia Cockburn in 1984. She grew up in Georgetown and spent her summers in Ireland. Her mother, Leslie, is a television news producer and journalist who works on the CBS series 60 Minutes. Her father, Andrew, is originally from Ireland and is a journalist. Her father’s side of the family was upper class and lived abroad during the height of the British Empire, making places like Peking, Calcutta, and Cairo their homes over the years. I share this for a very particular reason. It contextualizes Wilde’s class interests and provides an understanding of her lens of feminism, i.e., as divorced from a fundamental acknowledgment of the economic factors that enable the worst misogyny.
Don’t Worry Darling is a middle-school take on feminism and misogyny. Its morals and themes are painfully obvious and awkwardly clunky. She understands some of the reactionary discourse on women and their desire to resign women to a position of property. Yet, she fails to get to the heart of why they might think this way. This type of ideology doesn’t happen in a vacuum, but if you are to watch any mainstream American film or television program addressing feminism, it will likely be presented in the most reductive terms possible. The naturally occurring question that arises out of that would be, Why? Wilde does not ask this in Don’t Worry Darling, and I would argue, presents a context that actually counters an honest exploration of the roots of misogyny and “men’s rights.” But I am not surprised to get this take from someone who inarguably grew up in and living in the wake of profound privilege.
If this film had come out 20 or 30 years ago, it might have been better received, but we live in a media landscape where feminism is being addressed in complex & nuanced ways in a lot of places. For the most part, corporate-owned media is not where that is happening, and when it does, it’s often from content that is much more niche and overlooked. The best takes on feminism will not be found at the local cineplex that only plays franchised IPs all day. It will also not come from someone raised in wealth, like Wilde. In America, people are taught from birth that the appropriate manner of expressing frustration with the system & modernity is to punch down. Poor men punch down on poor women. Straight poor men punch down on LGBTQ poor people. White men punch down on BIPOC people. But white women are also part of this game. Wealthy white women punch down on poor women. Poor white women punch down on poor BIPOC women. Able-bodied women punch down on disabled women. And this is not something locked in by your political party affiliation. Liberal people punch down as much as conservative people; the manner & degree is all that vary.
When Wilde pulls us out of the illusion at the center of Don’t Worry Darling, we find that Jack, ostensibly the villain of the picture, lives in a scummy little apartment. His class in the real world is identified as working or lower class. That is not a problem, but the film clearly communicates that his desire to live in a fantasy world is due to his inadequacy. Well, why does he experience those feelings? Wilde doesn’t overtly state it, but we can read why. He’s a poor, dirty man. That’s why Jack is evil and misogynistic. This is why he loves the simulation because he gets to live a more privileged life, and part of that privilege is engaging in class & social stratification of the system. The implication is that it was like that in the 1950s, but it’s not as bad now because “women are empowered.”
Wealthy white women have a lot of privilege compared to other demographics. Last week, I saw a Twitter post where Kaitlin Jenner reacted to a popular TikTok video of another trans woman recreating the opening theme to the sitcom That Girl. Jenner commented that this woman was morally wrong without further detail to understand what exactly she meant. Are we to assume Jenner thought it was wrong to recreate the theme of an old sitcom? Of course not. We all know she was referring to the woman being transgender. That makes it confounding because Jenner herself is a very prominent transgender figure. Why would she do this? Because of Jenner’s class privilege. American conservative thought is centered on the idea that those below you are undeserving of the privileges you have “earned.” I have no doubt Jenner believes she “earned” the right to transition. The poor below her simply haven’t and/or are “faking it,”/” following trends,”/whatever bullshit these people use to justify their warped ideas.
Wilde can easily see misogyny in poor, dirty men because they are beneath her class. Does that mean the men are not misogynistic? They certainly are, but they are not expressing this anger out of nowhere. The culture encourages this expression because it gives cover for people in Wilde’s socio-economic class to retain power. If the working class & poor were to coherently understand that divisions along gender, race, sex, etc. were all tools of distraction wielded by those in the upper classes, the poor might be able to make meaningful change. Wilde claims that Frank is based on Jordan Peterson and meant this as an insult. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t see Frank as reprehensible melting crackpot as Peterson is. Frank is suave, calm, cool, and collected until the plot calls for him not to be. Peterson is none of these things; he’s a sobbing ninny with chronic mouth diarrhea. Peterson knows why working-class and poor men are angry, but like Wilde, he obfuscates the issue by pointing these men at women and BIPOC. Wilde fails to address that with Frank, so he ends up being a villain without a coherent goal or motivation. He’s just a bad guy who wants to be mean to women.
One of the most significant indicators that Wilde presents a shallow message can be seen in her casting. Of course, her infamous casting of Harry Styles to replace Shia LeBeouf and her disparaging comments about Florence Pugh. But I see it in the casting of Nick Kroll. I do not like Kroll. I find his style of comedy very shallow and pandering. His associations with the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and its management have been a red flag. If you are unfamiliar, UCB closed down just after the pandemic began, and former students/employees began sharing experiences about how mistreated they had been by its founders. These mistreatments were centered around the founders, now part of a privileged class due to their success in Hollywood, punching down on young people trying to get into the business. Kroll’s dad is Jules Kroll, an American businessman who worked as a private investigator. One of Kroll’s wealthy clients was Harvey Weinstein, who would employ Kroll as his fixer when women were proving to be potential threats by coming forward and talking about how they were sexually assaulted. Nick Kroll is not his father, but it is silly to argue that Kroll the Younger has not benefited from an upbringing in these social circles.
With the merger of Warner & Discovery, we saw the mass (seemingly permanent shelving) of shows created by LGBTQ artists with all rights retained by the corporation. When choosing the two movies they could afford to release, WBD went with two of the worst films I’ve seen this year, without a doubt. Neither film possesses any meaningful observations on its own themes or topics. They are like cotton candy, evaporating from a drop of water. If America becomes a society, and it appears to be this at the moment, that relies entirely on corporate-produced media to carry forward our values & principles, then it is only a matter of time before the society collapses. These monoliths are not interested in being honest about the human condition, as their profits come directly from exploiting people. Olivia Wilde cannot be a legitimate voice of feminism to the masses because she doesn’t know what it is like to live as most women do in America. She can only ever speak to wealthy women, and in doing that, she will only serve to support their view of punching down.
Wealthy women like Wilde could use their privilege to fund BIPOC & LGBTQ art, step back and just produce, letting the ideas & voices that come through be the authentic ones. Unfortunately, I doubt this is what will happen. She seems to have learned nothing from this experience and will likely keep making movies that please executives and are forgotten weeks after release. That’s not to say the film doesn’t look pretty. Movies have never been as well-lit or well-shot as they are now. Yet, that only amounts to little when they have nothing below the surface. Don’t Worry Darling doesn’t say anything any adult doesn’t already know about misogyny that you couldn’t find in a 1990s Saturday morning cartoon.