Wedded bliss gets really creepy in 'Don't Worry Darling' : Pop Culture Happy Hour In the new movie Don't Worry Darling, Florence Pugh plays a woman living with her husband (Harry Styles) in an idyllic planned community that looks like it came out of about 1955. But soon, strange things begin to happen that make her suspect that all is not well. Directed by Olivia Wilde, the film is now in theaters after some behind-the-scenes tensions that put it in the public conversation.

Wedded bliss gets really creepy in 'Don't Worry Darling'

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(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LINDA HOLMES, HOST:

In the new film "Don't Worry Darling," Florence Pugh plays Alice, a woman living in an idyllic planned community that looks like it came out of about 1955. Alice is blissfully happy, it seems, with her husband, Jack, played by Harry Styles. But strange things begin to happen that make her suspect that all is not well in the community run by Jack's mysterious employer.

STEPHEN THOMPSON, HOST:

"Don't Worry Darling" has probably gotten as much attention for some of the behind-the-scenes tensions surrounding it as for the film itself. It's in theaters now after some festival showings that put it very much in the public conversation. I'm Stephen Thompson.

HOLMES: And I'm Linda Holmes. And today, we're talking about "Don't Worry Darling" on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. Joining me and Stephen today is Aisha Harris. Hey, Aisha.

AISHA HARRIS, BYLINE: Hey there.

HOLMES: And also here with us is Ronald Young, Jr. He's the host of the film and television review podcast "Leaving The Theater." Welcome back, Ronald.

RONALD YOUNG JR: Hi, Linda.

HOLMES: "Don't Worry Darling" is a movie with a lot to talk about, and that is why we're actually going to split this conversation in two. In this episode, we'll talk without spoilers about the premise and the general feeling of the film, as well as its path to theaters. We'll also have a spoiler episode in which we dive into the resolution of the mysterious circumstances that Alice begins to observe.

The film stars Florence Pugh as Alice, Harry Styles as her husband Jack, director Olivia Wilde as her friend Bunny, Chris Pine as Harry's boss Frank, KiKi Layne as Alice's troubled neighbor Margaret and Gemma Chan as Frank's ultra-elegant wife, Shelley. The characters all live in neat and nearly identical homes. They drive nearly identical cars, all in an apparent throwback to the 1950s where the men go to work and the women stay home and keep house and keep house and keep house. Alice begins to hear and see things that make her feel like something is very wrong in this planned community, which is all under the control of Frank and his mysterious Victory Project. She's not sure what's out in the desert away from the town. She's not sure why some of the women in her circle act strangely. And she's not sure why Frank is so secretive about what the Victory Project actually is.

Now, you may also know this movie by its extensive behind-the-scenes newsmaking. There's no way around it. Olivia Wilde directed "Booksmart" before this. But with this film, she's had a rockier road with the production and the publicity. Early on, Shia LaBeouf was supposed to play Jack, but he was replaced by Harry Styles. There have been a lot of reports of a romance between Wilde and Styles that went on while the film was shot. They haven't officially confirmed it. It's not clear what their current status is.

As for LeBeouf, Wilde has said she let him go because of some of his on-set behavior and his work style. LaBeouf says there were problems with rehearsal time and that he left of his own accord. It's worth noting that this is all going on while LaBeouf is being sued by the musician FKA Twigs, who accuses him of assault and sexual battery. They have a trial date coming up.

Elsewhere, Florence Pugh also seemed to take a step back from promoting and talking about this film on social media. She hasn't talked much about that decision, but she skipped most of the press conference at the Venice Film Festival, has been pretty tight-lipped about the project. Some of that has been attributed by her representatives to her shooting schedule on "Dune 2" (ph).

On top of everything else - maybe you know this part - at the Venice Film Festival, there was a weird, little video clip of Harry Styles and Chris Pine during the premiere that some people said looked like Styles surreptitiously spat on or spat something on Chris Pine. But reps for both have loudly denied any such thing happened. We want to mostly talk about the movie, but it felt like we needed to sort of go through this stuff. And I do want to talk a little bit about the phenomenon of a film getting so much press for off-screen stuff before we get a chance to see it. Stephen, how aware were you of all of this? And how did it affect your viewing of the film, if it did at all?

THOMPSON: Yeah, I was aware that there was a lot swirling around this film. I certainly was aware of Spitgate (laughter) and some of the relationship dynamics that seemed to be affecting the mood of the set on this film. And I saw that there was a lot of conversation. Once I sat down in the theater, that really kind of fell away from me. I came into this movie, frankly, with a tremendous amount of goodwill for so many of the people associated with it. I was a very, very, very enthusiastic fan of "Booksmart," so I'm excited about Olivia Wilde as a director. I have loved Florence Pugh in everything I've seen her in. Loved her in "Midsommar," loved her in "Little Women." I have enormously fond feelings for Chris Pine. I like Harry Styles.

Once the movie started, I wasn't really thinking about that stuff so much and really pretty quickly got sucked into the kind of central mystery of the film, which is, what's the deal with this movie?

(LAUGHTER)

HOLMES: What's going on? Yeah.

THOMPSON: What's going on? What am I...

HOLMES: Yeah.

THOMPSON: What am I even watching?

HOLMES: Right. Ronald, what did you bring into this movie in terms of kind of awareness of all of this? How did it affect how you saw the film, how you approached it?

YOUNG: Well, I think two things are worth noting - one, that I saw this at a premiere event, in which, you know, I thought that this was going to be a bunch of critics watching the movie. And it really was a bunch of young women who were there to see Harry Styles, watching the movie and me and my plus one. So I think that definitely colored the experience I had watching it at the time. But as far as all the drama that happened outside of it, you know, I was interested in it, but I'm just a person that - I'm naturally suspicious. So my first thoughts are always like, are y'all doing this because the movie's not that good?

HOLMES: Right.

YOUNG: So when I sat down in the chair, I was a very tough critic, saying, but is the movie good, though? And I think, like Stephen, I was able to push a lot of the superfluous drama out of the way and just watch it and judge it for the movie that it is. So it didn't have too much bearing, but it was in my mind when I sat in the seat, but then it immediately kind of washed away as soon as the movie came on.

HOLMES: Yeah. Aisha, tell me about you and this experience.

HARRIS: So it's - this is the hard part - right? - is that, you know, I have been to many festivals, and I understand part of the reason festivals exist is in order for films to get in front of audiences - or get, like, critics to sort of build buzz or not build buzz for a movie ahead of time. But the problem for me with festivals is also that we're getting very early reviews that I think do not always hold up to the other wave of reviews for critics who don't go to the festivals and come out later and also, obviously, to the audiences, like, the average audience moviegoer.

Put aside all the Spitgate, blah, blah, blah, whatever. You know, six months ago I had pretty good will towards all of these performers and this movie, and I was on board. But then when the reviews started rolling in and they were very, very harsh, it was hard for me to go into the movie and not have that kind of swirling in the back of my head, which is why I try to always, like, avoid trailers for nonfranchise stuff when I can. So it was hard for me to go into this completely cold, and this could be, again, a product of all of the very harsh critiques that came out. I came out, like, being OK with it. I didn't think Harry Styles was that bad. Like, he's serviceable in the role he was supposed to be playing. It definitely has problems, but, like, I actually felt, oh, this is better than I expected given everything that we had already heard about and all the publicity ahead of time.

HOLMES: Yeah. It's interesting to me because it can get to the point, with both festival reviews and also - I don't know if you want to call it gossip, but, like, behind-the-scenes stuff and kind of off-screen stuff where, you know, it takes away from your remembering that, like, oh, this is a movie that a lot of people worked on and that, regardless of what happened with everybody else, this is a movie that involves a lot of people's work.

And the first thing that I want to talk about is I did like - and it's not something I've never seen before, but I did like the kind of creepy conformity of this community. There's an early shot of all the men, in their kind of similar-looking and sort of similar style classic cars, sort of backing out of their driveways in a very organized and regimented manner, and all of their wives standing outside waving goodbye to them. I did like the way that they built that sense of, you know, something is wrong just because this is all so orderly. Do you know what I mean?

HARRIS: Yeah. It felt very "Stepford Wives"-y in a way.

HOLMES: Exactly. That's what I thought it was when I saw the trailer. Ronald, what did you think about the - sort of the design of the neighborhood and the community and the kind of - it is a visual feast, if you like mid-century modern, right? It's very deeply committed to that look. What did you think of kind of the look of the movie?

YOUNG: That was listed under the things I liked about this movie. I think, aesthetically, I was having a great time just seeing stuff on screen, even the way they - the music flowed in - the sound design, fantastic. But all of it kind of painted this very cohesive, like, visually stunning image in front of me. And I really enjoyed that. Even the costumes and the set design - like, being there in this, like you said, conformity and seeing everyone in their version of whatever conforms to the standard in that community - different colors, like, maybe slightly different tweaks to the style - it was done so well that it kind of, for me, made the failings of the movie, in my opinion, just a little bit more glaring because you're watching something that's so beautiful. And then you're seeing something like, wait, y'all couldn't just write one more line of exposition? Like, this - you could have solved this right there, you know?

HOLMES: Yeah. Stephen, I want to ask you one thing. I want to talk to you a little bit about the music. You know, you talk a lot about music in films. I want to talk about two things, the music supervision and the use of all these kind of '50s and '60s songs from, you know, this mid-century modern kind of period. I felt like there were a lot of them, and I felt like it was like song, song, song, song, song. And I did feel like it was a little bit too much. But then I wondered if that was the point, that it was meant to be kind of overwhelming and a little bit cloying and maybe claustrophobic having all these songs kind of come at you.

THOMPSON: Yeah, I kind of came down on the side of finding the needle drops a little bit oppressive. This movie is many things. Subtle isn't really one of them. You know, so many of the visuals - I agree with Ronald that the visuals are gorgeous, and Olivia Wilde is very interested in throwing a lot of, like, splashy, vibrant imagery at the screen, but it's really hammering you. And when that's accompanied by these needle drops that feel very - they don't just feel, like, loud in the sense of, like, you're putting your fingers in your ears at the movies, but they're, like, thematically loud. Everything feels very on the nose. Like, I walked out of this movie with, like, nine different standards going through my head. It didn't necessarily lend the movie an air of creepiness so much as, like, we get it.

HOLMES: Yeah.

THOMPSON: It's suburbia of the '50s and '60s. Like, it's a kind of oppressive environment. Artifice, artifice, artifice - tell me what's going on.

HOLMES: Right, right, right. And the other thing that I want to ask you about, too - you know, it's very unusual for me to notice a score negatively, but I really - I was kind of bothered by this score, which is very - it has all these voices constantly going like, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HOLMES: The craft of it is fine. The composer, John Powell, I'm sure is very talented and brilliant and worked very hard and probably exactly followed what the brief was. It just felt like when I'm actually watching a woman panicking, I don't need to hear a woman in the score going ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha 'cause I felt like it was too literal. Talk to me, Thompson. What did you think?

THOMPSON: I agree with you completely. And I don't even actually have that much to add to it. I think you just said it perfectly. But I do think it ties into what my central problem with this movie - and I basically kind of enjoyed this movie. I didn't - I wasn't sitting there with my arms folded. To me, it felt kind of like a noble failure, where it's trying something really, really big, but not necessarily always cohering. My central issue with this movie is one of ratio. What I mean by that is this movie feels like it spends four-fifths of its running time just setting up something.

A lot of the issues you're talking about with scoring and music and the needle drops and even some of these visuals is, like, they get repetitive after a while because I'm waiting for the movie to get to what it's trying to get to. And then I don't feel like it actually addresses what it's been building up to. A lot of the atmosphere that we're talking about - there's a lot of interesting stuff being thrown at the screen, but it's not in balance.

HOLMES: Yeah, I just want to say Ronald was actually pumping his fist while you were talking.

(LAUGHTER)

HOLMES: So I want to know what was going on there.

YOUNG: Well, Stephen is stealing all my notes. Like, that's what's happening. Like, those were my biggest parts of the movie. I walked out of the movie, and I said, three-fourths of this movie was in the preview - three-fourths. There are shots from the preview - and they set up a preview that gives you a beginning, middle and end or supposed end. But one of the ending shots of the preview is Alice, Florence Pugh, walking up on what looks like a dome-like structure. That's in the first 20 minutes of the movie. And as soon as I saw that in the first 20 minutes, I said, oh, no, they're going to milk us on this mystery for, like, three-fourths of the movie or four-fifths, whatever fraction you want to choose here, before they actually get to the point.

And then we've seen her wrap her head in plastic wrap. That's from the preview. We've seen her get pressed while cleaning the window. That's from the preview. But they're setting it up in the movie as if we didn't see these scenes, as if they weren't big enough. And we've seen other movies like "Nope." The preview of "Nope" is the first 10 minutes of the movie, so we won't go in there like, oh, no, there's so much time left. And then they give you all of these new things and new revelations. And this movie didn't do that. So I think noble failure is a good name for it because I think there was a lot of things that I enjoyed, but it just kind of didn't stick much of the landing and kind of the middle, the flip in the middle, whatever this analogy means.

HARRIS: I'm glad you mentioned "Nope" because I also had that sort of in the back of my mind because I think they are functioning in similar ways for me, at least as a viewer, where, with "Nope," Jordan Peele clearly has a ton of ideas. And in that movie, which we discussed also in two parts, not all of it hangs together, and it feels like there's stuff that's missing. But, like, as you said, Ronald, I went into that movie feeling, oh, well, I still don't know what's going on, but I'm intrigued. It's cool, and, like, I'm going to try to figure this out in my mind. Whereas with this it definitely felt as though, by the end of it, I was just like, OK, yeah, I - that twist is interesting, but then, like, what do we do with this?

HOLMES: Yeah.

THOMPSON: Yes.

HARRIS: And for me, all of the visual stuff actually didn't really work that well for me and was kind of one of the things that I was not excited about because I do feel like we have seen this, like, order, order, order.

HOLMES: Right.

HARRIS: We've seen it in "Stepford Wives." We've seen it in all these other satires. For me, the revelation itself is interesting, but then what comes after it is just, like, such a letdown. And I'm like, I was ready to forgive you for all these other very derivative things, and now here we are, so...

HOLMES: Right. I hear you. Well, before we wrap on this section of the conversation, I do want to give a minute to the performances because I think one of the things that has been credited, you know, in some reviews of the movie, even ones that didn't care for the film, is the performance of Florence Pugh, who I think, you know - as Stephen mentioned, many of us have kind of loved her in a bunch of different things. I also think Harry Styles is sort of doing what's asked, right? I think he's kind of, like, being a neat guy. That's kind of the setup of the film. And I sort of think the menacing Chris Pine bit is sort of effective. Like, he's now working that kind of, like, silver fox sort of, like, bad CEO.

(LAUGHTER)

HOLMES: Like, I was into it, kind of.

HARRIS: Yeah.

HOLMES: Aisha, what'd you think about the performances?

HARRIS: Well, I really - there's a great scene between Chris Pine and Florence Pugh where they kind of come to a head. And that, for me, was kind of the moment where I was like, oh, this is getting interesting. And this, like, sort of power dynamic between the two of them could be really, really fascinating to pull on. That, to me, might have been my favorite scenes of the film. I think that there's a lot of tension in the room at that moment, and they explain things without being too explanatory. Like, it walks that very perfect balance for me. And I also - I really did love Florence Pugh. I think, like, again, she's done nothing wrong so far in anything I've seen her in. Like, she's just doing the work. And just like with "Midsommar," a movie I really, really did not like, she's carrying this movie, and...

HOLMES: Lots of different movies, too.

HARRIS: Yeah.

THOMPSON: Yeah.

HARRIS: And this and her performance in "Little Women" - my goodness, like...

HOLMES: Superhero...

THOMPSON: Yes.

HOLMES: ..."Little Women"...

HARRIS: Yeah.

THOMPSON: Yes.

HOLMES: ...Like, horror, this thing.

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

HOLMES: Stephen, what did you think about the performances?

THOMPSON: Yeah. I'm in the same boat. Love Florence Pugh. Love her in everything she does. I appreciated the casting of people like Nick Kroll. Having Nick Kroll pop up was kind of neat.

YOUNG: Yeah.

THOMPSON: I always like Kate Berlant in anything she's in. There's just a lot of people I always really, really enjoy. And I want to put in a tiny word of defense of Harry Styles' performance because I've seen Harry Styles' performance get panned.

HOLMES: Yeah.

THOMPSON: He's, as you said, Linda, doing what's asked of him. But also, like, there is an artifice to his performance and an awkwardness to his performance that actually kind of fits the tone of the movie. And I think he earns his keep for the scene where he's dancing.

HARRIS: I did not understand that scene (laughter).

THOMPSON: It's so weird. You could - that scene would not be as weird with anyone other than Harry Styles.

HOLMES: Yeah. Ronald, what about you and performances?

YOUNG: Florence Pugh eats in everything that she does. Like, she came and did exactly what we expected her to do. And I think that Chris Pine and Florence Pugh were doing the bulk of the work in this movie. I don't think they had to do any promotion for this movie. As far as I'm concerned, they did all their work before we turned in the project. With the Harry Styles performance, I think we all nailed it. For me, I think he is a remarkably ordinary person that somehow has been lifted to this, you know, starred individual that becomes the point of such controversy. And every time I see him, I have nothing against him at all, but it's just very much like, oh, Harry Styles.

And then, y'all going to have chicken for lunch, or what's going on? You know, it just feels like - and people act like he's just, like, this luminary of a generation. And I just - I think - I mean, he was fine. To pan his performance, I think, is completely unfair because he did fine.

HOLMES: All right. Well, tell us what you think about "Don't Worry Darling." Find us on Facebook at facebook.com/pchh or tweet us @pchh. Up next - what is making us happy this week?

Now it's time for our favorite segment of this week and every week - what's making us happy this week? Ronald, what's making you happy this week?

YOUNG: What's making me happy this week? There is a show on HBO Max called "Industry," which I'm sure people have heard of, but I don't know if people are watching. I think I hear that some people are watching. I'll see a tweet every now and then.

HARRIS: We did do a PCHH episode of it recently. Go check it out (laughter).

YOUNG: Oh, yeah. Well, you know what? I will go check that out, and I will defend this - and I will be offended that I was not on the panel because I love this show.

(LAUGHTER)

HARRIS: Sorry, Ron. Sorry, Ron.

YOUNG: This is how he finds out?

(LAUGHTER)

YOUNG: No, I absolutely love this show. I think it's fantastic. It just wrapped Season 2 on HBO Max. And I think one of the things that I enjoy a lot about it is it's showing young people in the beginning of their career kind of going on a journey and everything that comes with that. But it's set in the finance industry. And me, who is decidedly not a finance bro, really enjoys seeing the high-intensity finance scenes where lines like this are said - how much Rican is available in the market? No idea. We'll have to check the free float. Source it. Buy it. I don't need a price. And I'm sitting on my couch like, nah, the back end's going to be killer. You want to stop out as soon as possible - like I know what I'm talking about.

(LAUGHTER)

YOUNG: So I really enjoy the show. It's very exciting. If you're not watching already, definitely check out "Industry" on HBO Max.

HOLMES: All right. Thank you very much, Ronald Young Jr. Aisha Harris, what is making you happy this week, other than knowing that Ronald also enjoys "Industry"?

HARRIS: Well, now we know (laughter). Next time, Ronald. Next time. Well, so what's making me happy? Recently, a clip went around on Twitter, resurfaced from 2014, of George Clooney and Julia Roberts giving an amazing interview to Vanity Fair.

YOUNG: Yes.

HARRIS: This is in anticipation, I think, or brought up in part because they have a new movie coming out, a rom-com, which I'm very excited to see, called "Ticket To Paradise." But in this clip, George Clooney is prompted by the interviewer, you know, like, what's the first thing you think of when you say Julia Roberts? And they're both just being so charming. And we'll play a little clip of it here. Just listen to them, and hear Julia Roberts' infectious laugh that we all know and love.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JULIA ROBERTS: I'm just going to sit here smiling.

GEORGE CLOONEY: Are you going to smile? Are you still here?

ROBERTS: Yeah (laughter).

CLOONEY: Then I will say elegant.

KRISTA SMITH: And, Julia, this is...

CLOONEY: The second thing that comes to mind...

(LAUGHTER)

ROBERTS: I wasn't finished.

CLOONEY: Let me finish.

HARRIS: The full-on chemistry, the vibes, the old-Hollywood feel just, like, reminded me of the '90s and the early aughts in the best way possible. So that is a clip of George Clooney and Julia Roberts giving an impossibly adorable and sexy and amazing interview to Vanity Fair from 2014.

HOLMES: All right. Thank you very much, Aisha Harris. I considered that. I didn't pick it, which is a good thing.

HARRIS: (Laughter) Yeah, yeah.

HOLMES: But I considered that, too. All right. Stephen Thompson, what is making you happy this week?

THOMPSON: Well, I've got two related pieces of music. This week, I've been swimming in a three-hour album by the German composer Nils Frahm. Nils Frahm is a pianist, multi-instrumentalist. And he's got this new album called "Music For Animals." It's his pandemic project. The title "Music For Animals" is a reference to the fact that animals seem to like it. It's not, like, engineered to be appreciated by animals. I tested it on my cat Bashi, and he seemed to sleep comfortably. Now, he was sleeping comfortably before I pressed play, but it seemed to work beautifully for him. Let's hear a little bit of one of the singles, the 27-minute song "Briefly."

(SOUNDBITE OF NILS FRAHM'S "BRIEFLY")

THOMPSON: So this "Music For Animals" record reminded me to revisit a piece of music from this past May from a musician from Virginia who goes by the name Past Palms. He specializes in ambient music for watering plants, as evidenced by the title of his latest EP, "Ambient Music For Watering Plants."

HOLMES: (Laughter) This is the most Thompsonian thing I've ever heard.

THOMPSON: (Laughter) Now, I have - I'm just going to take his word for it that this is exactly the piece of music that you will want to listen to when you're watering your plants. Let's hear a little bit of "Meditation I: Palm."

(SOUNDBITE OF PAST PALMS' "MEDITATION I: PALM")

THOMPSON: So that's "Ambient Music For Watering Plants" by Past Palms and "Music For Animals" by Nils Frahm - music to get lost in.

HOLMES: All right. Thank you very much, Stephen Thompson. What is making me happy this week? Look; it's a slam dunk. I am always surprised how happy I am when "The Great British Baking Show" returns to Netflix.

HARRIS: (Laughter).

HOLMES: Do I love it as much as I did when it was Mary Berry and it was run by the BBC? No. Do I love Matt Lucas as a host? No.

(LAUGHTER)

HOLMES: Am I completely happy about all the changes that they've made? No. Nevertheless, I am always so happy when it comes back and as soon as I see people in that tent baking stuff, struggling - hot people, old people, lovely people with great senses of humor...

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

HOLMES: ...Making all different kinds of food. I am always so excited to see it. We are now getting it very much at the same time as it airs in the U.K. So, I mean, it's, like, a day later, but you have a much lower chance of being spoiled about everything. You know, hit up your Netflix, watch some baking, learn to make some stuff - "The Great British Baking Show" on Netflix - new season, very excited. And that is what is making me happy this week.

If you want links for what we recommended, plus some more recommendations, sign up for our newsletter. It's at npr.org/popculturenewsletter. That brings us to the end of our show. Ronald Young Jr., Aisha Harris, Stephen Thompson - thanks to all of you for being here.

THOMPSON: Thank you.

HARRIS: Thank you.

YOUNG: Thank you.

HOLMES: This episode was produced by Hafsa Fathima and edited by Mike Katzif and Jessica Reedy. Hello Come In provides our theme music. Thanks for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. I'm Linda Holmes, and we'll see you all next week, when we will be talking a little bit more about "Don't Worry Darling."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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