Don’t Worry Darling review

Director: Olivia Wilde
Cast : Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Olivia Wilde, Gemma Chan, KiKi Layne, Nick Kroll, Chris Pine, Timothy Simons, Dita Von Teese
Genre: Thriller/Drama
Run Time : 122 min
Opens : 22 September 2022
Rating : M18

It’s the buzziest film of the year. You’ve read the breathless headlines. You’ve seen the memes. You might have even seen the edited video in which Harry Styles appears to toss a goat into Chris Pine’s lap. But what’s left when you strip away all the hullabaloo?

It is the 1950s. Alice (Florence Pugh) and Jack (Harry Styles) are a married couple living in the company town of Victory, California. Jack works for the Victory Corporation, headed by the charismatic and enigmatic Frank (Chris Pine), who is married to Shelley (Gemma Chan). He is forbidden from discussing his top-secret job with his wife. Each morning, the men get in their cars and drive across the desert to the company’s headquarters, where they go about their top-secret work. The women, including Alice and her best friend Bunny (Olivia Wilde), live a leisurely existence, shopping, lounging around the pool and taking dance classes. However, Alice begins noticing that something is amiss after fellow resident Margaret (KiKi Layne) begins acting erratically. She is convinced that there is more to Victory than meets the eye, as she becomes increasingly disturbed.

This is director Olivia Wilde’s second feature film after Booksmart and it is a different beast from that coming-of-age comedy-drama. Don’t Worry Darling is ambitious and sees Wilde play with some intriguing components, even if they might not all go together well. The design elements of the film are eye-catching, and the sunny locations are unique, in a time when a lot of movies look a little muddy. Director of Photography Matthew Libatique, an oft-collaborator of Darren Aronofsky, does excellent work here. There are times when the film does feel Aronofsky-esque.

Don’t Worry Darling features yet another compulsively watchable Florence Pugh performance. It makes sense that she was cast off the strength of her performance in Midsommar, in which she also played a protagonist caught in outwardly idyllic but ultimately sinister surroundings. She fully deserves to be one of the most sought-after young actresses of the moment, and in Pugh’s hands, Alice is very easy to root for. It’s not necessarily the most layered or interesting role, even though the film sets her up as being a complex character, but Pugh does quite a bit with it.

Chris Pine is clearly enjoying himself as a cult leader-esque figure, charming yet undeniably sinister.

It takes quite a while to get there, but the movie’s final act is propulsive and entertaining, even if it isn’t a fully satisfying pay-off for the set-up.

Don’t Worry Darling is often awkward and inelegant, altogether too obvious when its dread should be creeping up on the audience, rather than bonking them over the head. It seems caught between arthouse aspirations and a pulpier, more visceral, throwback B-movie side. The movie also feels considerably longer than its 122 minutes, and it seems to spend a lot of time attempting to establish that Alice senses something is wrong, without really offering much in the way of subtle clues or carefully timed moments to throw the audience off. Once the big reveal happens, it’s hard not to question the mechanics of everything, and audiences might be a bit too busy parsing the logic (or lack thereof) to engage with the movie.

Harry Styles is miscast. His performance brings to mind one of Stephen King’s criticisms of Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining: the Jack Torrance character is supposed to start off as an ordinary family man and gradually unravel, but Jack Nicholson already seems deranged at the start of the film. It’s not quite the same thing, but Harry Styles has trouble playing unassuming, and seems to be simultaneously attempting to suppress his modern-day Britpop eccentricity, while also remembering that it is part of his brand.

I alluded to it up top, and it would be impossible to discuss Don’t Worry Darling without mentioning the inordinate amount of drama and controversy surrounding its production. From Wilde firing Shia LaBeouf, to being served divorce papers while presenting the film at CinemaCon, to the on-set relationship between Wilde and Styles, to the alleged rift between Wilde and Pugh, to LaBeouf saying he quit instead of being fired, to Styles allegedly spitting on Pine at the Venice International Film Festival, it’s been a lot. It is difficult to separate all this from the movie itself, and it may have influenced some critics who have been exceedingly harsh on Don’t Worry Darling.

Even if none of that had happened, it would already be intriguing that Wilde had decided to attach herself to a screenplay written by Shane and Carey Van Dyke, whose credits separately and together include the ‘mockbusters’ Transmorphers: Fall of Man, The Day the Earth Stopped, Titanic II and Paranormal Entity. Booksmart co-writer Katie Silberman rewrote the Van Dyke brothers’ script.

Summary: It’s difficult to separate Don’t Worry Darling from the flurry of behind-the-scenes controversy, but the movie itself is not quite the disaster that the general critical consensus is making it out to be. It could stand to be defter and more elegant, and perhaps it could have arrived at its exciting final act quite a bit faster, but Don’t Worry Darling has a pulpy quality to it and is sometimes entertaining. Florence Pugh does a remarkable amount of heavy lifting, almost enough to compensate for Harry Styles being miscast. It will be remembered more for the surrounding controversy than on its own merits, but there are things to recommend.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Richard Jewell review

For F*** Magazine

RICHARD JEWELL

Director: Clint Eastwood
Cast : Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates, Olivia Wilde, Jon Hamm, Nina Ariadna, Ian Gomez
Genre : Drama/Biographical
Run Time : 2 h 11 mins
Opens : 9 January 2020
Rating : NC16

From director Clint Eastwood and writer Billy Ray comes a biopic about Richard Jewell, the man who called in a bomb threat and was vilified as a suspect. The film is based on the 1997 Vanity Fair article American Nightmare: The Ballad of Richard Jewell by Marie Brenner, and the 2019 book The Suspect: An Olympic Bombing, the FBI, the Media, and Richard Jewell, the Man Caught in the Middle by Kent Alexander and Kevin Salwen.

It is July 1996 and the 26th Summer Olympics are taking place in Atlanta, Georgia. Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser), a security guard working at Centennial Park, notices a suspicious knapsack that is found to contain three pipe bombs. He is initially hailed as a hero but is soon regarded as a suspect in the bombing by the FBI, with agent Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm) strongly believing Richard to be the culprit. Tipped off by Shaw, Atlanta Journal Constitution reporter Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde) breaks the story about Richard’s status as a suspect. The overwhelming media attention overwhelms Richard and his mother Bobbi (Kathy Bates). Richard turns to Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell), a lawyer who worked at a public law firm where Richard was a supply clerk ten years ago, for help. Watson must help Richard clear his name and turn the tide of public opinion.

Eastwood has been directing movies for over 30 years and is a skilled technical director. Richard Jewell captures the 1996 Atlanta setting with enough authenticity – the film was shot on location at the actual Centennial Park. The scene in which Richard discovers the bomb is tense and gripping. Later, a scene in which Watson times a walk between the site where the bomb was placed and the public payphones where the bomber called 911 is stylishly cut with footage of sprinter David Johnson at the Olympics. Eastwood tells the story efficiently and it is abundantly easy to sympathise with Richard, even as the viewer grows frustrated at him for being easily manipulated and a bit too naïve.

Eastwood is not just a good technical director, but a good actors’ director as well. He draws excellent performances from his cast here. Paul Walter Hauser is a loveable, hapless figure as Richard Jewell – he is not especially bright, but the film attempts to give him some dimensions.

Kathy Bates is a warm presence as Richard’s mother Bobbi, who simply wants the best for her son and cannot bear to see him falsely accused and placed under such immense pressure. Rockwell is a go-to actor for slimy roles, so it is always nice to see him in largely noble parts. Watson is an honest salt-of-the-earth type but is also fiery and impassioned. Some of the film’s best scenes are between Hauser and Rockwell.

Any film based on a true story will have inaccuracies, and one or two of the real people portrayed in said film – or those who knew them – are bound to come out and speak against the way they were characterised in the movie. With Richard Jewell, the inaccuracies seem more calculated. It’s harder to view them as honest mistakes and easier to believe that Eastwood had an agenda going on. It is common for biopics to make a larger point and provide commentary beyond the specific subject matter, but it feels like Richard Jewell leans too far in that direction, reducing the story to a vehicle for Eastwood’s political views.

The film does a huge disservice to journalist Kathy Scruggs, who passed away in 2001 from a prescription drug overdose after dealing with depression and is not around to defend herself. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran an open letter by its editor-in-chief responding to how Scruggs and by extension the paper was portrayed in Richard Jewell. In the film, Scruggs is shown sleeping with a source for a scoop. The source, Jon Hamm’s FBI Agent Shaw, is a fictionalised composite character, but Scruggs was very much a real person. This propagates the insidious trope that women journalists trade sexual favours for tips. Authors Alexander and Salwen, whose non-fiction book was the basis of the movie, have firmly maintained that Scruggs did not sleep with an FBI agent to obtain information for her story.

In real life, Richard Jewell certainly was treated unjustly by both law enforcement and the media. However, the film goes out of its way to portray the media and the FBI as unscrupulous and out to destroy Richard’s life. Eastwood is remarkably unsubtle about this, and in order to simplify the story, creates two main ‘villains’ in Shaw and Scruggs. Wilde’s Scruggs is nigh-cartoonishly evil. In trying to clear the name of its title character, Richard Jewell trades in false accusations, something that is regrettable given the quality of the performances in the film.

Summary: Richard Jewell is the work of a skilled filmmaker but is also the work of a filmmaker with an agenda. It is worth seeing for the performances, especially Paul Walter Hauser’s, but this recommendation comes with the caveat that one should research the true story and not take the film’s version of events at face value. In going further than necessary to make the media and the FBI the villains of the piece, Eastwood comes off as dishonest and irresponsible, even though the film is well directed and strongly acted.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Love the Coopers

For F*** Magazine

LOVE THE COOPERS

Director : Jessie Nelson
Cast : Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Diane Keaton, Amanda Seyfried, Ed Helms, Anthony Mackie, June Squibb, Marisa Tomei, Olivia Wilde, Jake Lacy, Steve Martin
Genre : Comedy
Run Time : 107 mins
Opens : 10 December 2015
Rating : PG13 (Some Sexual References)

Family reunions are often where grinning and bearing it is the order of the day. This Christmas comedy-drama follows four generations of the Cooper clan as they reunite to celebrate Christmas as one big, not-so-happy family. Sam (Goodman) and Charlotte (Keaton) have been married for 40 years but on the brink of calling it quits, both reluctantly agreeing to put on a brave front for everyone coming over. Their son Hank (Helms) is recently divorced from Angie (Borstein) and is looking for a job, having to provide for his kids Charlie (Timothée Chalamet), Madison (Blake Baumgartner) and Bo (Maxwell Simkins). Hank’s sister Eleanor (Wilde), a struggling playwright, meets military man Joe (Lacy) at an airport bar and they kind of hit it off. Meanwhile, Charlotte’s sister Emma (Tomei) gets arrested for shoplifting by Officer Percy Williams (Mackie). Grandpa Bucky (Arkin) befriends diner waitress Ruby (Seyfried). Christmas dinner doesn’t go according to plan as a series of events unfolds, events that could drive the family further apart or bring them together in the spirit of the holiday.

            Every Chinese New Year, we get star-studded comedies like All’s Well that Ends Well, with posters that have Andy Lau, Chow Yun Fatt, Cecilia Cheung or Carina Lau grinning and holding their chopsticks up in the air. Well, Hollywood has movies like Love the Coopers. This is the kind of film which one can bring grandpa and grandma to during the holidays and it’s meant to please everyone, naturally pleasing nobody in the process. The goings-on are at once mundane and over the top, with the Coopers depicted as dysfunctional in a relatively pedestrian manner. Before everyone gets together a little after the halfway mark, the film flits from character to character, stringing the vignettes together. Every line of screenwriter Steven Rogers’ dialogue sounds like stock romantic comedy-drama drivel and it’s altogether very cloying and syrupy. There are attempts to temper this with some cynicism, but it seems like Rogers and director Jessie Nelson are constantly asking themselves “we can be a little bitter here without alienating all the grandparents, right?”

            We’re going to dust off that old chestnut one hears whenever there’s a movie that entirely wastes the collective talents of its cast: “imagine what Robert Altman could do with these actors.” Indeed, the collective wattage of the star power could eclipse even the Star of Bethlehem itself. Love the Coopers manages to be tolerable in the slightest because many of the actors are innately watchable, Goodman in particular. While he and Keaton are believable as a squabbling elderly married couple, the material is still very rote. At one point, Sam even asks Charlotte “what happened to us?” Excuse us if we can’t gather up the sympathy. There are flashbacks to every single character when they were kids and it feels more like a cheap heartstring pull than a worthwhile storytelling device.

Wilde and Lacy have decent chemistry and there is a degree of development to their relationship, even though it is heavy on the “oh, he’s a Republican and she’s a Democrat!” jokes. Tomei is shrill and casting the usually-engaging Mackie as a stoic police officer and the token black guy is a crying shame. Arkin mopes about and looks sad a bunch with Seyfried playing opposite him as the diner waitress anyone would have a crush on. There are hints of romance in their interaction, which given the 52 year age difference, is creepy in spite of both actors’ best efforts. Helms is pretty much a non-entity and Squibb is the doddering senile aunt whose dementia is played for laughs. While nobody is sleepwalking through the movie per se, it’s obvious that Love the Coopersdemands precious little from its cast, literally half of whom have won or been nominated for Oscars.

While Love the Coopers isn’t an insufferable gag-heavy Christmas comedy in the Deck the Halls mould, it still provides plenty of cringe-worthy moments. All of this is tied together by painfully on-the-nose narration by Steve Martin, with an end reveal as to the mystery narrator’s true identity that is worthy of an almighty eye-roll. This isn’t one of those films that’s joy and cheer from start to finish and it does take stabs at drama, albeit very ham-fisted ones. Make no mistake, with the fluffy St. Bernard and the adorable moppet granddaughter, this is still engineered for maximum “aww” factor and that’s going to make a significant portion of the audience throw up in their mouths a little. It’s not even cheesy and corny in an endearing, old-fashioned manner. Love the Coopers oozes insincerity and sitting through it ends up being quite like being forced to spend the holidays with relatives you’re not entirely fond of.



Summary:A monumentally talented cast by any standards is entirely squandered in this schmaltzy holiday flick which repeatedly attempts to trick us into thinking it’s making wise observations about family.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong