For reasons both related and unrelated to the contents of the movie itself, "Don't Worry Darling" has been dominating headlines in the film world. When the Olivia Wilde-directed psychological thriller arrived in American theaters in late September 2022 following a much-discussed festival bow, it was one of the most hotly-anticipated mainstream releases of the fall season. All that buzz has translated to plentiful financial gains during the film's first week of release, even in the wake of very mixed reviews. Love it or hate it, "Don't Worry Darling" appears to be making quite a splash.
You can, like me, be of the opinion that the work done by Wilde and screenwriter Katie Silberman is accomplished enough to deserve some presence in the public consciousness. But whether or not the flaws of "Don't Worry Darling" tip the film past the point of enjoyability for you, the movie clearly owes a lot of its success to its star-studded cast list. Like most films in the narrowing adult mid-budget bracket, "Don't Worry Darling" is absolutely chock-full of major stars who sink their teeth into meaty roles; indeed, the quality of some of those stars' acting has been a primary sticking point in the "Don't Worry Darling" discourse. On that note, we're here to lend a hand: Here's a full ranking of all 11 of the major performances in the film.
Harry Styles As Jack Chambers
Alice's husband, Jack Chambers, is introduced as a platonic midcentury husband straight out of an Al Parker illustration in the pages of a post-war women's magazine: handsome, charming, faithful, and lively. At first, his one flaw seems to be his almost excessive dedication to his work. However, as Alice gets closer and closer to discovering the truth about Victory, the limitations of Jack's marital devotion rear their ugly head.
On paper, it's a great concept for a blood-curdling antagonist, but the execution sells it short. Come to think of it, Harry Styles got a bit of a raw deal in his first major acting role. Not only is Jack a much meatier and more difficult role than anything he'd been asked to do before, but the cast he's surrounded with makes it all the more apparent how hard it is for Styles to communicate nuance and authenticity.
Styles' line readings and facial expressions are often sophomoric in a way that recalls amateur theater actors, but that's not the only issue. The big problem with his performance is that it feels like a void. As the author of Alice's pain, and the clearest example of how the Victory men flit between haughty playacting and deep-seated insecurity, Jack is supposed to embody everything the movie has to say about the psychology of male entitlement. But there's no sense of psychology to Styles' choices, just the strain of a first-timer trying to get the basics right.
Nick Kroll As Dean
Just as Alice relies on Bunny as her buddy and confidante — for as long as she's able to trust her, at least — her husband also has a BFF of his own at Victory in Bunny's husband, Dean. Older, more seasoned, and considerably more laid-back than the high-strung younger dudes, Dean has a time-weathered fratboy energy that makes him equally adroit at cheering up a party or playing with the kids. But, as "Don't Worry Darling" later reveals, all that suaveness may be hiding a proclivity for explosive, merciless rage.
Dean is a relatively minor character in the film, and his screen time largely serves to fill out the bro-y atmosphere at Victory and provide fodder for Bunny. As a result, despite being a very talented performer, Nick Kroll doesn't get to shine as much as his co-stars. However, what he does get to do as Dean, he aces. His comedic instincts serve the satire of American masculinity well, rendering Dean as a fundamentally ridiculous figure even at his most confident. His chemistry with Olivia Wilde is believable and natural, befitting the ultimate revelation of the unique nature of Dean and Bunny's relationship. Finally, when it's time to be evil, Kroll manages to transform into the movie's scariest character in a matter of just a few seconds.
Chris Pine As Frank
Frank is the character at the center of it all: the founder and leader of Victory, whose vision powers the everyday lives of all the town's residents. The film initially positions Frank as a distant, nigh-intangible figure. He's the man at the top of the mountain, only accessible in brief glimpses. Eventually, though, Frank becomes Alice's direct opponent in the cat-and-mouse game that her life becomes.
It's a larger-than-life character that calls for a larger-than-life performance. The thing about Chris Pine's work, though, is that while it absolutely sings when it rises to the occasion, it doesn't always reach those highs. Here, Pine is something of an against-type casting choice. He's made a career of playing everymen who, despite their charisma, feel approachable, understandable, and vulnerable. Frank retains that charm, but Pine is asked to lace it with danger and mystery.
There are moments in the film that feel like watching a new side of Pine reveal itself in real time; who knew his smile could be so frightening, or his close-ups so menacing? But there are also moments where the gamble doesn't quite work, such as Frank's speech at his house, which comes across more like the ramblings of a department manager than the introduction of a mighty arch-villain. Inconsistency is the word here: For all the wow factor of Pine's performance, Frank doesn't always feel like a man who could feasibly inspire feverish, cult-like devotion. But in the scenes where he does? Oof.
Sydney Chandler As Violet Johnson
The beginning of "Don't Worry Darling" is structured around a new couple's arrival at Victory. Bill and Violet Johnson, both young and unsure of what awaits them, imbue their first few scenes with lots of tension just by virtue of their sheer eagerness to fit in. As Alice becomes acquainted with the two newcomers, Violet becomes a proxy of sorts for her own anxieties over the stifling atmosphere at Victory, and Violet's shyness and Pavlovian sweetness mirror Alice's own defense mechanisms.
By her very nature, Violet is not the movie's most substantial character. After all, we catch her right as she's isussing out what her identity even is in relation to her new neighbors. But Sydney Chandler, who had never been on a movie set prior to this one (via Women's Wear Daily), has a quietly daunting job to do. It's hard enough to display a convincing humanity as a character defined by a lack of personality — something Chandler accomplishes by giving clear physical form to Violet's jittery emotions, making her strikingly reactive even if she's not always an active force. But it's even harder to pull off a character transformation within such a narrow, subtle register, as the back half of the movie asks of her. And yet, Chandler gets it all just right; her performance sketches out its own understated tragedy.
Douglas Smith As Bill Johnson
Violet's husband, Bill Johnson, is one of the most hopelessly pathetic characters in an ensemble full of different flavors of pathetic men. Much like his wife, he is defined by his status as a newcomer, but unlike Violet he is a man. As such, Victory has more in store for him than the routines of a complacent housewife. Even more than the likes of Jack or Peter (Asif Ali, who, for the record, gives a solid performance but has too minor a role to factor into this list), Bill is absolutely desperate to please his co-workers and his new boss — whatever it takes to ascend Victory's pecking order.
Incidentally, desperation defines Douglas Smith's performance. The up-and-coming actor does a fantastic job of playing a pitiable bundle of nerves, with a self-debasing admiration for Frank that calls to mind the bootlicking losers you find in an evil billionaire's Twitter replies. It's pitch-perfect work on that level alone, but what makes it a truly fascinating performance is the hint of guilt and moral uncertainty evinced by Bill's more contrite behaviors. Smith gives the sense that Bill understands the significance of what he's doing, and can't seem to shake off that knowledge. Of course, that only makes him more detestable; one can't help but shudder at the thought of the mental gymnastics he must be doing to see himself as a good guy.
Kate Berlant As Peg
Despite conforming to 1950s gender roles, the housewives at Victory are a pretty kooky bunch. When the boys go to work and Alice is left to enjoy the town's restful pleasures on her own, she — and we — learn about all the ways that the community's women kill time and keep going. Some gossip. Some drink. Some give their all in those creepy ballet classes. And then there's Peg, who staves off boredom by getting pregnant.
Chatty, clueless Peg is the closest thing "Don't Worry Darling" has to a proper comic relief character, with her plentiful offspring serving as a running joke even in the world of the movie. Her tendency to run her mouth and err on the side of inappropriate provides some of the film's most purely diverting moments, and Kate Berlant does just as much with them as you'd expect from a comedian of her caliber. She's the kind of performer who knows how to be effortlessly, intrinsically funny, eliciting belly laughs just by the way she sits in a chair or looks at her fellow cast members. Like many great comedy acts, her turn as Peg carries an undercurrent of sadness; no character in "Don't Worry Darling" seems simultaneously more out of their depth and more determined to keep swimming, no matter where the current leads.
Timothy Simons As Dr. Collins
One of the ways in which "Don't Worry Darling" builds tension is by keeping us confused. Starting when Victory's residents are already happily settled encourages the viewer to just go along with everything, as Alice and her fellow housewives do. When Alice begins to realize that she doesn't know what she's doing there, it's convincing because we don't really know, either — and, once that cat is out of the bag, every new throwaway detail only serves to further mess with our heads. That's very much the case with Dr. Collins, a quiet, mysterious man who's namechecked by Frank as one of the project's original masterminds, and who then turns out to be … a physician?
The movie never explains exactly what's up with Dr. Collins, nor what his exact relationship to the Victory Project is. However, while he's about town doing his doctor duties, Timothy Simons gives the strongest male performance in the show. His scenes with Florence Pugh, full of unscrupulous menace masquerading as warm folksiness, are among the film's most disturbing. Ultimately, we don't really need to understand the exact nature of Collins' role and the minutiae of the threat he poses to Alice. The stony death glares he shoots her in between friendly quips tell us everything we need to know.
Olivia Wilde As Bunny
The good, old-fashioned American way of life has no room for conjugal friendships. A husband is a husband, a friend is a friend, and, as intimate as Alice and Jack may be, there are certain things she's supposed to find somewhere else. Gossip, lazy poolside companionship, genuine interest in the trials of her daily routine — Alice finds all of those things with Bunny, not her husband. And it's just as well, too, because no character in "Don't Worry Darling" seems more in her element in Victory than Bunny. Everyone else seems to be floundering to some degree, but not her. She sneers, she has fun, she respects the rules, and she keeps herself functionally tipsy. Bunny is thriving.
Olivia Wilde's performance is so brashly entertaining and well-matched to the early scenes' campy tone that it had me wondering if this wasn't a case where the director naturally understood her function in the movie better than any of her co-stars. No one in "Don't Worry Darling" gives a more convincing '50s-pastiche performance than Wilde; her hyperspeed one-liners would be right at home on an episode of "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" (Amy Sherman-Palladino, take note). But then the truth of the film emerges, and Wilde's performance gains a new layer — one that makes perfect sense, and that brings her seemingly offbeat mannerisms together as Bunny transforms from an amusing caricature into a three-dimensional deuteragonist.
Gemma Chan As Shelley
Behind every mediocre man assumed to be great is a brilliantly wicked woman working overtime to hold the con together. Shelley is not just Frank's grinning wife, nor is her importance at Victory limited to the influence she exerts over the town's women as their beloved first lady and fearsome ballet instructor. As we come to learn, she and Frank run a joint operation, and it's Shelley who's constantly keeping Frank in check when his ego causes him to act out of line.
If Chris Pine's performance doesn't always imbue Frank with the gravitas that would make for a truly unforgettable villain, Gemma Chan provides enough for the both of them. Her performance is not only transfixing but deeply intelligent. She understands that Shelley would be smart enough not to reveal her true nature to the community, and so, instead of using creepiness to make a strong impression, Chan plays Shelley as a personable and likable figure; even her calculated gestures of aggression are designed to raise no suspicions. The outraged speech that Shelley gives at the Chambers' late in the movie is an absolute masterclass in expressing nuance and detail through acting choices.
KiKi Layne As Margaret Watkins
In the beginning, everything seems to be going fine at the Victory Project — even for Alice, give or take the occasional empty eggshell. It's through Margaret Watkins, a housewife in the same predicament that Alice will soon face, that things begin to change. First, we see Margaret act inappropriately in public settings, allegedly as a result of the grief for the son she lost in a forbidden incursion into the desert. Then, we learn that she wants out of Victory and is having her will undermined by the men around her, including her husband Ted (Ari'el Stachel).Finally, she becomes Alice's gateway to the truth.
Poor Margaret doesn't appear much in the film, as Alice continually disregards her warnings and pleas for help until it's too late. As a matter of fact, KiKi Layne noted on Instagram that her role was drastically reduced in the editing room (along with Stachel's, who barely makes a blip despite being a Tony Award winner). Be that as it may, Layne makes by far the strongest impression out of anyone in the cast, one notable exception aside. Everything about her work is haunting, from her lugubrious voice to her unsettling body language to the bottomless despair in her eyes. Merely watching Margaret from afar alongside Alice is nerve-racking. It's as though she were a porcelain figurine on the verge of collapsing.
Florence Pugh As Alice Chambers
No one can accuse Alice Chambers of not trying to make it work. Even as her suspicions about the true nature of the Victory Project become impossible to overlook, she does everything she can to fall in line. When hallucinations plague her out of nowhere, she ignores them. When her husband is disturbed by her questions, she throws herself into cleaning and endeavors to stop thinking about the bigger picture. But Alice is too much of a muckraker, bless her heart. Eventually, the truth calls to her, and she runs to reach it.
Naturally, "Don't Worry Darling" is an incredible showcase for Florence Pugh. Alice is the kind of eminently likable rogue hero that every actor dreams of getting to play in a major movie. It's impossible not to cheer on Pugh when she's embodying Alice's newfound resolve to bring down the house and get this nonsense over with. Even before that, though, the role allows Pugh to flaunt her considerable gifts and show off every facet of her unbelievable range. As a romantic lead, she's irresistibly charismatic. As a victim, she's vivid and revolting without ever being pitiable. As a woman in mental disarray, she's spectacular, in that Adjani/Deneuve-esque arthouse-scream-queen way. Her performance goes through about a thousand different shades and emotional registers, and never strikes one false note. The cast of "Don't Worry Darling" is (mostly) excellent, but, in the end, it's unmistakably Pugh's show.
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The post Every Main Character in Don't Worry Darling, Ranked Worst to Best appeared first on /Film.