Culture Pick: Florence Pugh leads the way as ‘Don’t Worry Darling’ outshines Hollywood drama

Alyssa Schubert, Staff Reporter

A perfect, cookie-cutter neighborhood showcases suburbia at its very finest; it’s a life that everyone deserves. This is the world that director Olivia Wilde created in her cutting-edge, psychological thriller, “Don’t Worry Darling” that hit theaters on Sept. 23.

Alice and Jack Chambers, played by Florence Pugh and Harry Styles, live a conventional 1950s lifestyle in Victory, a small desert town. Jack goes to work to make “progressive materials” while Alice tends to their home, shops with her friends and takes ballet classes.

All is not as it seems, though, as Alice begins to find out sinister truths. Hallucinations start to haunt her and when one of her friends disappears, she is left to question the leadership of Chris Pine’s character Frank. Between the lies and the facades, Alice falls into a pit of distrust with the world she once adored.

Ironically, the plot of the film has been overshadowed by the off-camera drama surrounding its release.  Among the alleged co-star feuds are claims that Pugh and Wilde had bad blood.

Shia LaBeouf was originally cast opposite Pugh in the role of Jack Chambers — but Wilde claims she fired him afterfinding out about sexual assault allegations. LaBeouf did not take that sentiment lightly, leaking a video of Wilde begging him to come back to set. Fans believe that this, along with Styles and Wilde’s alleged romantic relationship, was the reason for Pugh’s reluctance to promote the film.

All this drama came to a climax at the Venice Film Festival on Aug. 31, when the entire cast walked the red carpet before they watched the first screening of the movie. The mess became bigger than an uncomfortable red carpet, with the internet going as far to speculate that Styles spit on co-star Chris Pine during the premiere.

“I think this is a perfect example of people trying to find drama anywhere they can,” Wilde said when asked about the “spit gate” on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.

The once highly anticipated feature film was reduced to Hollywood drama and Twitter memes and left fans wondering how it could redeem itself.

Redeem itself it did, in the United States, “Don’t Worry Darling” opened as No. 1 in the box office with $19.2 million in ticket sales. Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a 34% critic review, but audiences wholeheartedly disagreed and increased its rating to 83% after just one night at the box office. According to Variety, the film raked in $3.1 million from Thursday night’s previews alone and debuted at #1 at the domestic box office.

Questions arose as to whether or not this film would sell at the box office, but fans quickly put them to bed. Audiences showed up and showed out, especially Styles’ devoted fanbase. All over the world, “Harries” packed theaters on opening night, skyrocketing ticket sales.

In Tuscaloosa, the narrative was the same. “BamaHarrys,” The University of Alabama’s fan-club for Styles, were in attendance on Thursday, all wearing their merch to support their new favorite movie star.

“I personally enjoyed the film,” said Mauricio Gomez, a junior majoring in news media at The University of Alabama. “The plot was compelling, and it was such a deep film. To me, the central theme is liberation.”

The theme of liberation can be identified throughout the story, especially within Pugh’s stunning performance. While sporting the same American accent she had in the 2019 adaptation of “Little Women,” Pugh astonishingly portrays Alice Chambers as a woman desperately looking for a way out.

“She was so dogged in her pursuit of the most authentic version of every moment,” Wilde said. “She’s fantastic.”

Pugh pushes the boundaries of femininity in film and portrays Wilde’s idea of women stuck behind the glass cases society places them in flawlessly.

The Oscar nominee elevates her co-star, Styles, and the two work exceptionally in tandem. From intimate scenes filled with chemistry to passionate arguments, Pugh and Styles command the screen with ease.

This was not the Grammy winning artist’s first time on the silver screen, as Styles made his acting debut in Christopher Nolan’s World War II epic Dunkirk.” Many skeptics wondered if Styles could act, and even went as far to say that he only landed the role because of his romantic involvement with Wilde.

Nolan never doubted him, though, telling BBC Radio 1, “I was not surprised that he is a good actor. He is very real in what he does, and very truthful. He is just a very talented guy.”

Not only was he one of the leads of the film, Styles also wrote and produced the theme track for the film entitled “With You All the Time,” which doubles as a clue laced throughout the movie. Although the official track is listed as being sung by the on-screen love interests, Pugh’s voice remains in the foreground accompanied by a haunting piano and the soft whisper of Styles’ harmonies.

“I wanted something that could be both sweet and creepy,” Styles told Rolling Stone. “Applied to different moments in the film, I think it takes on a couple of different lives — I hope.”

“Don’t Worry Darling” is a fantastically creepy film filled with heart-racing thrills. With every plot twist, audiences were launched headfirst into a story that brings no comfort, only confusion and an unsettling feeling.

At the Venice Film Festival, Harry Styles said that the thing he loves about this movie is that it “feels like a movie,” which, at first, was quickly written-off as a joke. Nonetheless, Styles said everything that needed to be said without really saying anything at all. “Don’t Worry Darling” delivers an authentic cinematic experience, one that has audiences feeling what the characters are going through, gasping at each plot twist and rooting for the lead.

While the film shone in some aspects, especially with the performances of Pugh, Pine and Gemma Chan, there was a sense of ambiguity when the lights came up.

“The issue with ‘Don’t Worry Darling’ is that it creates a beautiful lock and a perfectly passable key, but when you put the key in the lock, it doesn’t quite turn,” wrote Linda Holmes for NPR. “You don’t get that satisfying click. It doesn’t have much time to spend with its resolution, which seems rushed and leaves the distinct impression there are pieces missing that perhaps once offered more answers.”

Despite mixed reviews and its controversial director, the film stands on its own two feet. With the use of its unique music score, attention to details and visuals to elevate the story, it breaks through the fog of the drama surrounding it. Its success cannot be definitively attributed to the seemingly never-ending flow of celebrity drama, the star-studded cast, or the frenzied fandom that follows Harry Styles, but one thing is for sure: “Don’t Worry Darling” was a hit, in one way or the other.