Olivia Wilde’s 2022 thriller Don’t Worry Darling, much like her first film Booksmart, is a movie that demands to be taken seriously. One of Wilde’s best qualities as a director, the full-throated shout of importance is refreshing in a sea of attempts at four-quadrant adult entertainment that is horrified of being read too far into. This isn’t to say anything about the actual quality of these film’s ideas, but the pointed specificity plants a flag clearly in the ground to attract people looking for some more thoughtful entertainment. Such a quality is better in theory than in practice, however, as the magnified eyeballs on the themes in Don’t Worry Darling betrays not only this film’s failure to keep modern, but the Hollywood machine’s inability to keep up with the rapidly shifting modern landscape.
It’s unfair to blame all of this on Don’t Worry Darling or Booksmart, both films were adapted from Black List scripts, so their development had been going on for a while, not to mention the long process of making a film even if the script was forged directly from the headlines. I bring this all up because political ideas are ever changing, even more so in the internet age, so ideas that are something powerful and counter-cultural can become stale and blasé almost immediately. There was a lot of noise made about the inspiration douchebag pundits like Jordan Peterson were on Chris Pine’s character in the film, and as the movie transitions from lightly allegorical criticism of men’s rights activists into a full, blunt exploration of the incel movement, the film’s point becomes less and less clever. By the end of Don’t Worry Darling, I couldn’t shake the feeling I was watching a very biting Twitter thread from 2018 about the dangerous rise of Dumb Fascism, but four years removed from when those ideas were new, I can’t help but feel condescended to. I’m a smart, very online person. I know Jordan Peterson is a tool, and when the movie’s central thesis boils down to “online personalities that prey on men’s fears of a more equal society will kill us all”, I don’t know what I’m supposed to gain.
I was nicer to Booksmart about this same problem, mostly because I was not as smart in 2019 as I am in 2022, and the feminist ideas in the film are a little vaguer and more general, so it’s fine that Booksmart’s feminism lives squarely in the girlboss era. It also doesn’t hurt that Booksmart is a far better movie.
While I have these criticisms, though, there is an earthquake of feelings beneath me saying that this is a good thing. Don’t Worry Darling is a mass-marketed film starring one of the most famous people on the planet surrounded by a sea of actual actors. It’s not unrealistic to think that somebody, either a film fan or a Harry Styles fan, might come away from the flick with a more nuanced perspective of life. Similar to looking back to Last Week Tonight clips from the early 2010s or even Daily Show clips from the early 2000s, what was once progressive is now simple and easily known *by people like me*.
Not all people are like me. Not all people keep up with the intentionally obfuscated online political landscape, either because they don’t care or because it’s all so fucking confusing. And maybe what’s condescending to me now is revolutionary to someone starting their journey of being skeptical and critical of the world. This doesn’t mean I think Don’t Worry Darling is a radical, or revolutionary film. I just think it, like The Handmaid’s Tale, Jojo Rabbit, Hamilton, or Promising Young Woman, or a litany of other works rightfully criticized and praised for how their ideas reflect a simpler thesis than the one we are currently living in, is a stone on the path to enlightenment. Maybe it’s condescending to me (not to mention women who, you know, actually live through this shit), but maybe it’s exactly what somebody else needs. There’s value in there. There has to be.