There’s a fantastic film hiding somewhere deep within Don’t Worry Darling, Olivia Wilde’s follow-up to her surprise hit directorial debut in 2019 with “Booksmart.”

In an idyllic world, Darling takes an incredible Florence Pugh performance and elevates it with exceptional cinematography and production design as well as an ensemble cast that can help create a larger world and bring an intriguing concept to life.

The building blocks for a top-five movie of the year are there, but nothing ever really comes together in Darling, a big swing and largely hit-or-miss drama that doesn’t settle on a proper tone nor truly lets the audience in on what’s going on.

Darling follows Pugh as 1950s suburban housewife Aliceliving out a life of relative luxury in a corporate based community ripped straight out of a mid-20th-century American dream. It’s only when Alice learns that there’s something much darker behind the bright façade that her life begins to spiral.

The centerpiece of the film, Pugh is exceptional at keeping this fledgling genre-bending drama afloat with a subtly manic performance that leaves audiences constantly questioning if Alice is the crazy one or if everyone around her is.

As is often the case with her work, Pugh dances around any other actor she’s on screen with and it’s clear on a scene-to-scene basis that her Alice isn’t like anyone else in the film, nor is her performance on the same level as anyone else. It’s a magnetic turn from a brilliant actress that allows the increasingly confusing, bizarre narrative to take shape while keeping viewers interested.

Pugh being a class above everyone else in Darling is especially true in the wide gap between her work and that of musician Harry Styles cast as Alice’s husband Jack. Their romantic chemistry is increasingly visual through tight camerawork and an emphasis on the physicality of their love.

But whether it’s the screenplay by Katie Silberman or Styles’ inability to emote or some combination therein, there’s a tone-deafness to their marriage that’s much deeper than Wilde or the script might want to imply.

The larger ensemble cast does well with what they are given for the most part.

Chris Pine continues to showcase his ability to be a more well-rounded actor as the Svengali-esque leader of the Victory community. It’s a performance that’s part William Shatner, part Dr. Oz, part Jordan Belfort but always engaging and challenging the audience’s expectations.

Wilde does a solid job of creating mystery behind Pine’s character visually, largely keeping him in the shadows ever lurking but a firm presence for much of Darling.

Where it often seems like Wilde doesn’t have as strong of a grasp is in the supporting female performances in the film, which highly evoke a Stepford Wives vibe but just doesn’t fully click.

It’s problematic that the only African American actress in the film, KiKi Layne, is burdened with a role that accentuates white savior tropes and doesn’t showcase how dynamic of a performer she truly is, but Layne excels at breaking the walls down in an emotional and frantic way.

Darling boasts some of the most engaging cinematography of the year with director of photography Matthew Libatiqueenveloping the world of Victory with a bright glossy sheen that starts to wear off as the plot unfolds. Darling needs to look perfect in the beginning and progressively become an uglierplace and Libatique becomes a secondary star with a constantly moving camera that spirals and encircles Alice to heighten the tension and Pugh’s magnetic performance.

It’s nearly impossible to experience Darling objectively given the lengthy behind-the-scenes drama involving several lead actors and the director, which is a shame given how strong much of the film is. Only the third act truly falters and it’s in the final moments where all the goodwill and momentum Wilde and Pugh have built over the course of 70 minutes comes crashing down.

A Hollywood blockbuster that is meant to be seen on the big screen, Don’t Worry Darling has enough highs to be enjoyable for much of its running time from a magnetic Florence Pugh to exceptional cinematography and production design that make it a movie worth checking out in theaters.

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