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Desperate Housewife: Florence Pugh and The Allure of Don’t Worry Darling

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In Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling, Alice (Florence Pugh) and Jack (Harry Styles) are lucky to be living in the idealized community of Victory, the experimental company town housing the men who work for the top-secret Victory Project and their families. The 1950’s societal optimism espoused by their CEO, Frank (Pine)—equal parts corporate visionary and motivational life coach—anchors every aspect of daily life in the tightknit desert utopia.

While the husbands spend every day inside the Victory Project Headquarters, working on the “development of progressive materials,” their wives—including Frank’s elegant partner, Shelley (Gemma Chan)—get to spend their time enjoying the beauty, luxury and debauchery of their community. Life is perfect, with every resident’s needs met by the company. All they ask in return is discretion and unquestioning commitment to the Victory cause. But when cracks in her idyllic life begin to appear, exposing flashes of something much more sinister lurking beneath the attractive façade, Alice can’t help questioning exactly what they’re doing in Victory, and why. Just how much is Alice willing to lose to expose what’s really going on in this paradise?

An audacious, twisted and visually stunning thriller, Don’t Worry Darling is a powerhouse feature from director Olivia Wilde that boasts intoxicating performances from Florence Pugh and Harry Styles, surrounded by the impressive and pitch-perfect cast.

While the world of Don’t Worry Darling presents as a luxurious lifestyle that harkens back to the Rat Pack era, with all the outward glamor (and entrenched gender roles) of the times, for filmmaker Olivia Wilde, the immediate draw was the chance to investigate the underlying story and themes with a focused gaze and shifted viewpoint that made her truly eager to dive into helming the project.

At the heart of the movie is Alice Chambers, played by Florence Pugh, a character full of intellect, love and warmth she is impossible not to connect with. She’s someone audiences empathize with and root for, from beginning to twisted end.

Audiences first meet Alicee in incredibly blissful moment in her life, just at the point where she starts to question some of the mysteries around her. As the movie pulls back each layer, it is discovered she is also ferociously brave, willing to put herself on the line that audiences become swept away by her commitment to finding out answers.

Starved for life and experience, Alice is a woman who needs to be everything except a 1950s housewife. As the truth crumbles around her, the audience grips to whether or not Alice and the world around her is real. As she dives (or is pushed) into a further descent into madness, the relationship between Alice and Jack is deeply passionate as Jack becomes more desperate.

Pugh says, “The difference between Alice and the other wives is she’s not as tied up… not as ‘straight’. I think it’s because of the relationship that Jack gives her— she’s able to be her own person, wear her own clothes, be a little more relaxed, more sensual, more sexual. Their relationship is different, and he allows her to be essentially more modern. Everything about her is more relaxed, the way that she moves, the way she dances through her day.”

“The fact she wears lingerie to say goodbye to him in the morning. The wives love tending to their men. I think playing this role wouldn’t have been half as interesting if Alice and these women hadn’t been committed in their lives. They genuinely love cleaning the house and making sure everything’s perfect. That makes for an interesting character. Everything about her is trying to enjoy as much of what she has in front of her without being so uptight—it’s also that she enjoys it.”

But Alice is experiencing other things besides joy. Pugh states: “Something we wanted with Alice’s wardrobe was for it to be a little off-kilter and different from the rest of the women. You’ll notice that lots of the housewives are wearing pastel colors and everything’s a bit sweet and perfect, but there’s something slightly off with Alice, whether it’s a sharp magenta or black. And there’s an hourglass shape and nice line, but she becomes more disheveled. It was so fun to be part of the creative process.”

Alice and Jack are young and modern, even for this kind of community with its unspoken rules. They’re madly in love but also work as a team and, despite the ecosystem that they’re in in the 1950s, which has a lot of dormant misogyny, they’re really partners. Equals. And friends. While Jack might identify as a typical 1950s traditional man their relationship is presented as singular. He isn’t a stereotypical ‘master of the house,’ and their love seemed genuine, authentic and warm—you’d immediately recognize it to be special within Victory. Jack and Alice are different.

Working with fellow Brit, Pugh expressed her joy. “It’s very exciting when there’s a fun connection with someone, and I think maybe it was also the fact that I had been away from home for so long, and I had a fellow Brit on set with me. It felt like I had an old schoolmate with me, and so the first kind of chunk of rehearsal time was so exciting, because we were just being gremlins together, essentially.”

Overseeing every resident of Victory and every employee of the Victory Project is the ubiquitous and omniscient Frank, with Chris Pine in the role. CEO, mayor, social leader and conscience, Frank asks everyone to share his philosophy and vision for the sake of progress. His character speaks to the emergence and star-making popularity of motivational/self-help figures from the era, such as Earl Nightingale and Zig Ziglar, as well as the growing interest in the exploration of human psychology, with echoes of B.F. Skinner and his work on behaviorism. Frank is the kind of leader for whom you’ll do anything to follow. He inspires those working for his company to be the best versions of themselves. He is out to change the world and welcomes those brave enough to change it with him.

A tense dinner party conversation between Pugh and Pine offered a reunion for the two actors, who worked together on “Outlaw King.” Pugh comments: “To come back together again and play adversaries was so exciting. He’s an actor that I feel so safe with no matter what I do. No matter what move I make, he’ll always bat it right back to me, and that is such an exciting feeling, when you’re totally safe with someone and they trust you just as much as you trust them.

While audience members will vary on their opinions of Don’t Worry Darling, this is a movie that will result in strong opinions. “For me, it’s the fact you’re completely swept up in this world. You totally feel like these are your people, just living in a heightened reality in the 1950s—I think you’re very quickly swept up in their lives, their relationships and their fun. And that’s where it catches you… so much so that when Alice is going through all of this, even she is shaking her head, trying to wake up and be perfect the next day. It kind of goes back to how much would you turn a blind eye to, even if your gut was telling you that something is wrong?”

“Coming to a film like this is so exciting, because there’s all of the sex appeal, the colors, the costumes and the cast, but it’s also intimidating, because everyone on this film has to deliver… and not just kind of deliver, but 100% deliver, and it’s been truly amazing and thrilling watching everyone do that, especially our talented and committed crew. They worked so hard during a difficult time with COVID and under immense pressure given the locations and tight schedule. They were genuinely the heartbeat that kept this film going. You have to have a lot of passion to want to keep on going, especially when the world around you is so troubled and chaotic.”

Don’t Worry Darling is now in theaters.

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