Review: ‘Don’t Worry Darling,’ starring Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Olivia Wilde, Gemma Chan, KiKi Layne, Nick Kroll and Chris Pine

September 23, 2022

by Carla Hay

Pictured in center: Florence Pugh and Harry Styles in “Don’t Worry Darling” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Don’t Worry Darling”

Directed by Olivia Wilde

Culture Representation: Taking place in a fictional California community named Victory, the sci-fi/drama film “Don’t Worry Darling” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A homemaker wife with a seemingly perfect life finds her life unraveling when she witnesses things that are too disturbing to ignore, but other people try to convince her that she’s paranoid and mentally ill.

Culture Audience: “Don’t Worry Darling” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of stars Florence Pugh and Harry Styles, but this disappointing dud of a movie serves up an over-used concept that becomes tedious and repetitive with a bungled ending.

Pictured in front, from left to right: Olivia Wilde, Nick Kroll and Chris Pine in “Don’t Worry Darling” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

Take a little bit of “The Stepford Wives,” add a lot of “The Twilight Zone,” and remove any real ingenuity. What’s left is a mishandled mush called “Don’t Worry Darling.” The central mystery of the story is too easy to solve, because a similar concept has been used in much better movies. Even without that problem and even with Florence Pugh’s talent, “Don’t Worry Darling” comes undone by a sloppily constructed conclusion.

Directed by Olivia Wilde and written by Katie Silberman, “Don’t Worry Darling” is one of those movies where the off-screen drama is more interesting than the movie itself. This review won’t rehash all the tabloid stories (including all the brouhaha at the movie’s world premiere at the 2022 Venice International Film Festival), but what most people will remember about “Don’t Worry Darling” is that it’s the movie that led to Wilde and co-star Harry Styles becoming romantically involved in real life. “Don’t Worry Darling” isn’t a complete train wreck, but it spins its wheels too many times to the point of monotony, and everything goes completely off the rails in the movie’s last 15 minutes.

We’ve seen this scenario many times before: A movie starts out with a picture-perfect couple who seems to have a picture-perfect life. They seem to be passionately in love. They live in a well-kept house with a perfectly manicured lawn, and the neighboring houses have an eerily similar aesthetic. And all the neighbors lead seemingly idyllic lives too. But, of course, it’s later revealed that the community is far from perfect and is actually quite hellish.

In “Don’t Worry Darling,” the central “perfect” couple are spouses Alice Chambers (played by Pugh) and Jack Chambers (played by Styles), who live in a planned California community named Victory, which is filled with palm trees and is near a desert. (“Don’t Worry Darling” was actually filmed in Palm Springs, California.) Based on the fashion, hairstyles and cars, Alice and Jack seem to be living in the 1950s. Alice is a homemaker, while Jack (and the other men in the community) all work for the Victory Project, a mysterious technological business venture led by a charismatically creepy CEO named Frank (played by Chris Pine). Jack’s job title is technical engineer.

Alice and Jack, who are both in their 20s, have no children. Jack and Alice tell people that they haven’t started a family yet because they want to enjoy life for a while in a child-free marriage. The movie’s opening scene shows Alice and Jack having a house party, where everyone is drunk or tipsy. Alice and some of the other people are playing a game to see who can balance a tray and drinking glass the longest on the top of their heads.

Two of the party guests are a married couple in their late 30s named Bunny (played by Wilde) and Dean (played by Nick Kroll), who like to think of themselves as the “alpha couple” of the Victory community because they’re older than everyone else. Dean is especially eager to be perceived as Frank’s favorite employee at Victory. Bunny (who is sassy and sarcastic) and Dean (who is high-strung and neurotic) have a son and a daughter who are about 5 to 7 years old. Bunny half-jokingly tells Alice that the kids like Alice more than they like Bunny.

Another couple in the Victory community are spouses Peg (played by Kate Berlant) and Peter (played by Asif Ali), who are little quirky but ultimately underwritten and underdeveloped. If Peg and Peter weren’t in the movie, it would have no real impact on the plot at all. Also underdeveloped is a scowling scientist character named Dr. Collins (played by Timothy Simons), who shows up later in the movie and is described as one of the founders of the Victory community.

Frank’s wife is an emotionally aloof diva named Shelley (played by Gemma Chan), who leads the Victory women in group ballet classes. All of the women seem to be a little bit afraid of Shelley. She gives the impression that she can be ruthless if anyone betrays her or the Victory Project.

One day, at one of the ballet classes, Shelley tells the assembled women that a new couple is moving into the neighborhood because the husband will be starting a new job at Victory. The spouses’ names are Bill Johnson (played by Douglas Smith) and Violet Johnson (played by Sydney Chandler), who are both anxious to fit in with this tight-knit Victory community. Bill is a little bit wimpy and socially awkward, while Violet is very demure and introverted.

To welcome Bill and Violet to the Victory community, Frank assembles the community members outdoors on the streets and gives a rousing speech. Bill and Violet look a little overwhelmed. Dean tries to assert himself by chastising Bill for not thinking of Frank with enough reverence. Later, Alice privately tells Bunny that Violet reminds Alice of a “beautiful, terrified baby deer.”

When talking to Bunny, Alice notices a neighbor named Margaret (played by KiKi Layne) standing outside on the front lawn of the house that Margaret shares with her husband Ted (played by Ari’el Stachel). Margaret, whose eyes are closed, seems to be in a daze as she clutches a red toy plane in her hand. It’s enough to say that Alice sees some other disturbing things pertaining to Margaret, including an apparent suicide attempt where Margaret is up on her house roof and looks like she’s ready to jump. (The trailer for “Don’t Worry Darling” already revealed this plot development.)

At the outdoor gathering, Margaret asks people, “Why are we here?” Ted doesn’t like the way that Margaret is asking is question, so he tells Margaret to keep quiet and whisks her away into their house. Margaret is rarely seen out of the house after that, while Alice sees indications that Ted is keeping tight control over Margaret and trying to prevent Margaret from interacting with other people.

Margaret has also been speaking out against Frank and questioning his intentions. It isn’t long before gossip spreads in the neighborhood that Margaret is a mentally ill troublemaker who must be shunned. If this Victory community sounds like a cult, a party scene at Frank’s mansion removes all doubt.

This party scene (like most of the movie’s plot) is already partially revealed in the “Don’t Worry Darling” trailer. At this party, Frank asks Dean in front of the assembled Victory people: “Dean, what’s the enemy of progress?” Dean dutifully replies, “Chaos.” Frank then says, “I see greatness in every single one of you. What are we here for?” The crowd chants, “We’re changing the world!”

Victory has a trolley that is the main form of public transportation in the community. One day, Alice is the only passenger in the trolley when she sees in the distance that a red plane has crashed into a cliff area near the desert. When Alice asks the trolley driver (played by Steve Berg) if he saw the plane crash, he says he didn’t see anything.

Alice begs the trolley driver to go to the plane crash site to get help, but the driver is too afraid and says that it’s a restricted area. Alice decides to walk to the area by herself. What happens after that sets her on a path where she and other people start to question her sanity.

Unfortunately, the trailer for “Don’t Worry Darling” already gives away the fact that this movie has men in red jumpsuits chasing after people, so it’s easy to figure out that these men are sent to oppress people who “disobey” the Victory rules. Guess who becomes one of those targets? It’s all so predictable.

Pugh does a skillful job of portraying Alice’s psychological torment, but ultimately, Alice (like all of the characters in this movie) are very hollow. Styles is adequate as Alice’s increasingly estranged husband Jack, who is torn between his loyalty to Alice and his loyalty to Victory. But after a while, the obvious and over-used plot development of “the woman who is not believed and labeled as mentally ill” gets run into the ground early and often in “Don’t Worry Darling,” At a certain point in the movie, you just know the men in the red jumpsuits will be part of a big chase scene, because it’s already revealed in the movie’s trailer.

“Don’t Worry Darling” tries to have some visual flair, with repetitive images of the people of Victory moving in sync with each other, as if they’re pre-programmed robots. This visual styling is shown in the scenes with the ballet classes, as well as the Victory community’s morning ritual of the wives going on their front lawns to wave goodbye to their husbands, who drive off to go to work in perfect sync in their flashy cars. The movie also repeats images (many of them psychedelic) of things in the shape of a circle, whether they are close-ups of eye pupils or women dancing like they’re in a Busby Berkeley musical.

All of this eye-catching cinematography comes off as shallow and a bit pretentious after a while, because the story falls so flat toward the end. “Don’t Worry Darling” hastily throws in some heavy-handed feminist messages but doesn’t have anything clever or new to say that 1975’s “The Stepford Wives” didn’t already cover decades ago. The half-baked ending of “Don’t Worry Darling” just brings up questions that are never answered.

Wilde and Silberman previously collaborated on the 2019 teen comedy “Booksmart,” which was Wilde’s feature-film directorial debut. And although the critically acclaimed “Booksmart” uses a lot of familiar teen comedy plot devices, “Booksmart” has dialogue, acting and character development that are appealing. The same can’t be said for “Don’t Worry Darling,” which has talented cast members, who look all dressed up but have nowhere artistically to go in this boring sci-fi tripe posing as an intriguing psychological thriller.

Warner Bros Pictures released “Don’t Worry Darling” in U.S. cinemas on September 23, 2022.

Review: ‘Family Squares,’ starring Ann Dowd, Judy Greer, Billy Magnussen, Margo Martindale, June Squibb, Casey Wilson and Henry Winkler

April 7, 2022

by Carla Hay

“Family Squares” cast members. Pictured in top row, from left to right: Judy Greer, Margo Martindale and Henry Winkler. Pictured in bottom row, from left to right: Sam Richardson, Timothy Simons and Billy Magnussen (Photo courtesy of Screen Media Films)

“Family Squares”

Directed by Stephanie Laing

Culture Representation: Taking place in 2020, in North Carolina, New York City, Connecticut and other parts of the world, the comedy/drama film “Family Squares” features a cast of predominantly white characters (with one Asian and one African American) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Before and after an American family’s matriarch dies, various members of the family meet on videoconference calls to talk about the clan’s frequently difficult relationships and some family secrets that cause conflicts. 

Culture Audience: “Family Squares” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s cast members and stories about bickering family members who still love each other despite their differences.

June Squibb in “Family Squares” (Photo courtesy of Screen Media Films)

Neither terrible nor great, “Family Squares” is a flawed comedy/drama that’s elevated by the talent of the movie’s cast members. It’s an uneven but well-acted movie about a family gathering on videoconference calls. Directed by Stephanie Laing, “Family Squares” has a title that refers to how the family members appear on screen in squares because of the videoconference format. It’s another movie about people being unable to interact in person because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Family Squares” (which Laing co-wrote with Brad Morris) won’t be considered a classic COVID-19 pandemic movie, but it might interest people who are curious to see a scripted story about how large families stayed in touch during the pre-vaccine lockdowns of the pandemic.

The movie, which takes place and was filmed in 2020, has the expected squabbles between these relatives, but there are enough tender moments and comedy to make the emotions well-rounded. Where the movie falters is in some of the dialogue, which can sometimes be too corny or too contrived. However, the cast members’ performances make the movie’s characters believable. You might see parts of yourself or people you know in some of these family members, even if what some these characters say occasionally sounds like an overly calculated movie script.

“Family Squares,” which centers on the fictional Worth family, could have done a better job of explaining in the beginning how each family member is related to each other. Unless you have an excellent memory or are taking notes, it might be very easy to get confused by the first 10 to 15 minutes of the movie, which is kind of a jumbled mess, where the characters show up on screen and then babble on about various things.

Here are the characters of the Worth family who participate in these videoconference calls:

  • Mabel (played by June Squibb) is the family’s feisty matriarch, who is in her 90s and dying in a hospice/nursing home somewhere in New York state. Mabel passes away during the first videoconference call that’s seen in the movie. Mabel divorced her husband (who is now deceased) many years ago and has been married to a much-younger woman for the past four years. Mabel’s two children from her marriage to her ex-husband are son Bobby and daughter Diane.
  • Judith Joyner (played by Ann Dowd), Mabel’s soft-spoken wife, lives in New York City, and has been unable to visit Mabel in person during Mabel’s final days because of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns.
  • Bobby (played by Henry Winkler), Mabel’s bachelor son, has a rebellious past and a tense relationship with his younger sister Diane, who were both raised on a farm in Spring Hope, North Carolina.
  • Diane (played by Margo Martindale), Mabel’s strong-willed younger child, doesn’t think highly of Bobby because she thinks he’s irresponsible and flaky. Diane, who lives in Connecticut, is a widow and a mother of five adult children: son Bret, daughter Dorsey, son Chad, son Robert and daughter Katie.
  • Bret (played by Timothy Simons) is a widower and a failed business entrepreneur who is raising his daughter Cassie (who’s about 15 or 16 years old) on his own.
  • Dorsey (played by Judy Greer) is a neurotic single mother who is currently on a road trip (in a recreational vehicle camper) with her reluctant 17-year-old son Max. Dorsey has a longtime love/hate relationship with her younger sister Katie. Max’s father, who is described as a deadbeat dad who abandoned Dorsey and Max, is not a part of Max’s life.
  • Chad (played by Scott MacArthur), a bachelor with no children, is a fairly successful self-help guru and author, who thinks that he’s the one who has a life that is the most enviable out of all of his siblings.
  • Robert (played by Billy Magnussen) is a ne’er-do-well bachelor with no children. Robert jumps from job to job and has a younger brother inferiority complex with Chad, who bullied Robert when they were children. Robert claims to be calling from Russia, where he says he is hiding out for top-secret reasons that have to do with Robert’s computer hacking.
  • Katie (played by Casey Wilson) is the youngest of Diane’s children and the only one of her siblings to still live in their North Carolina hometown of Spring Hope. Katie is very image-conscious and has a bad habit of being tardy. Katie and her husband Kevin have three underage kids together, but Katie is the only one in their household who participates in the videoconference calls.
  • Max (played by Maclaren Laing), Dorsey’s marijuana-smoking son, loves his mother, but he doesn’t want to spend a lot of time with her. Max was never close to his great-grandmother Mabel, so he is emotionally unaffected when Mabel dies.
  • Cassie (played by Elsie Fisher), Bret’s quiet and introverted teenage daughter, was emotionally attached to her great-grandmother Mabel, so she is devastated when Mabel dies.

The movie’s unseen narrator is someone named Bill (voiced by Rob Reiner), whose identity is revealed toward the end of the movie. It might be easy to figure out who Bill is, based on his comments and observations. Some viewers might think the narration is unnecessary and annoying, while other viewers might think the narration is necessary and charming.

Someone who pops in occasionally during these videoconference calls is Kelly (played by Zoë Chao), the hospice nurse who was taking care of Mabel before Mabel passed away. Kelly is the one who sets up the videoconference call for Mabel, who is computer-illiterate and too sick to do it herself. After Mabel dies, Kelly plays video messages that Mabel left for her surviving family members.

Kelly has an awkward moment with Judith when, after Mabel dies, Judith wants to arrange to get Mabel’s personal items that were at the hospice, but Judith is not allowed to claim Mabel’s items. Kelly has to tell Judith that it’s because the hospice doesn’t have Judith listed as a family member, even though Judith and Mabel were legally married. This scene is a depiction of what LGBTQ people often have to go through when their spouses or partners die, and the spouses or partners who are left behind are impeded by homophobic policies and laws that deprive them of their rights. All of the members of the Worth family love and accept Judith, but the movie never bothers to explain why Mabel—who knew she was dying and was living openly as a queer married woman—never made the proper spousal arrangements for Judith at this hospice.

Another person who is part of these videoconference calls is a funeral director/attorney named Alex (played by Sam Richardson), who is put in an uncomfortable position when the Worth family members disagree over whether or not to have a virtual/online funeral for Mabel. Judith is a part of these funeral arrangements. And the decision about the funeral isn’t the only conflict in this family.

Mabel drops two bombshells in her farewell videos that are shown after her death: First, she announces that somewhere on the family farm property is something valuable. “We are really, filthy, stinking, fucking rich,” Mabel says in the video. Some of the family members immediately want to go to the property to hunt for what they think might be hidden treasure and possibly find it before the other family members. Bill can be heard in a voiceover saying, “Nothing like an inheritance to get the family greed boiling.”

Mabel’s other shocking revelation is that she says one of the family members who is a sibling is actually not a biological sibling. Mabel refuses to go into any further details and tells her family members that they have to figure out this secret on their own. This family secret actually makes “Family Squares” more interesting than it could have been, so it’s one of the main reasons why the movie can hold people’s attention.

There are other family secrets that are revealed during these calls, but they are somewhat mild in comparison to the one about who are the real biological parents of the person who’s “not a sibling.” There’s also the matter of who else in the family knew about this secret, which could threaten to destroy relationships in this family. Judith admits she knows the secret, but she tells everyone: “It’s not for me to say.”

In a movie with very talented cast members, it’s hard to go wrong with their performances. Greer and Martindale stand out the most because not only do their characters of Dorsey and Diane have outspoken personalities, but they also have the most emotional depth. All of the other cast members perform well in their character roles, which at times can get a little two-dimensional and can reduce them to stereotypes.

Laing gives mostly solid direction to “Family Squares,” which could have done without some of the slapstick shenanigans between Chad and Robert that cheapen the quality of the film. A few of the characters, such as Cassie and Bret, are a bit underdeveloped. Because there are so many family members and so many conflicts, at times “Family Squares” seems a little overstuffed. The first third of the movie tends to drag, the middle of the movie is a little scattered and unfocused, but the last third of the movie makes up for the story’s shortcomings.

Screen Media Films released “Family Squares” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on February 25, 2022. The movie was released on Blu-ray and DVD on April 5, 2022.

2019 Primetime Emmy Awards: presenters announced

September 11, 2019

The following is a press release from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences:

The Television Academy and Emmy Awards telecast producers Don Mischer Productions and Done+Dusted announced the first group of talent set to present the iconic Emmy statuettes at the 71st Emmy Awards on Sunday, September 22.

The presenters include:

  • Angela Bassett* (9-1-1 and The Flood)
  • Stephen Colbert* (The Late Show with Stephen Colbert)
  • Viola Davis* (How to Get Away with Murder)
  • Michael Douglas* (The Kominsky Method)
  • Taraji P. Henson (Empire)
  • Terrence Howard (Empire)
  • Jimmy Kimmel* (Jimmy Kimmel Live)
  • Peter Krause (9-1-1)
  • Seth Meyers* (Late Night With Seth Meyers and Documentary Now!)
  • Billy Porter* (Pose)
  • Naomi Watts (The Loudest Voice)
  • Zendaya (Euphoria)
  • The cast of Game of Thrones: Alfie Allen*, Gwendoline Christie*,
    Emilia Clarke*, Peter Dinklage*, Kit Harington*, Lena Headey*, Sophie Turner*, Carice van Houten*, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau*, and Maisie Williams*

September 17, 2019 UPDATE:

More presenters have been announced for the 2019 Primetime Emmy Awards:

  • Anthony Anderson* (black-ish)
  • Ike Barinholtz (Bless the Harts)
  • Cedric the Entertainer (The Neighborhood)
  • Max Greenfield (The Neighborhood)
  • Bill Hader* (Barry)
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus* (VEEP)
  • Cast of VEEP: Anna Chlumsky, Gary Cole, Kevin Dunn, Clea DuVall, Tony Hale, Sam Richardson, Reid Scott, Timothy Simons, Sarah Sutherland, Matt Walsh
  • Gwyneth Paltrow (The Politician)
  • Amy Poehler* (Duncanville and Russian Doll)
  • Maya Rudolph (Bless the Harts and The Good Place)
  • RuPaul* (RuPaul’s Drag Race)
  • Lilly Singh (A Little Late with Lilly Singh)
  • Ben Stiller* (Escape at Dannemora)
  • Phoebe Waller-Bridge* (Fleabag)
  • Cast of Keeping Up with the Kardashians: Kim Kardashian, Kendall Jenner, Kylie Jenner

The 71st Emmy Awards will air live from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles on Sunday, September 22, (8:00-11:00 PM ET/5:00-8:00 PM PT) on FOX.

For more information, please visit Emmys.com. Find out Where to Watch.

*71st Emmy Awards Nominees

 

https://www.emmys.com/news/awards-news/emmy-presenters-190911

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