DON’T WORRY DARLING: 3 STARS
There is more to “Don’t Worry Darling,” the new sci-fi mystery starring Florence Pugh and Harry Styles and now playing in theatres, than “Spitgate.” That’s the unfortunate viral video that made it appear that Styles dropped a loogie into co-star Chris Pine’s lap at the film’s Venice Film Festival premiere.
Put that out of your mind, or at least don’t watch it again and again on TikTok until you’ve visited the film’s setting, the suburban southern California company town of Victory. A picture- perfect place that makes Pleasantville seem edgy; it’s a manicured paradise where it’s always sunny, there is a classic car in every driveway and everyone has a pool in the backyard.
But something seems slightly off. It’s like Rob and Laura Petrie through a looking glass.
All the men in town, like Alice Chambers’ (Pugh) husband Jack (Styles), work for the Victory Project, run by Frank (Chris Pine), a visionary in the field of the “development of progressive materials” for a chaos free world.
“Frank has built something truly special,” says Frank’s wife Shelly (Gemma Chan), “What he’s created out here, it’s a different way. A better way.” He’s a mid-century modern Tony Robbins, a slick talker who says he sees greatness in all his “intrepid explorers” — i.e. the residents of Victory.
His “better way” is also a top-secret way. The business conducted at the Victory Project headquarters is known only to the men — an arrangement that seems to suit most of the women just fine, but when Margaret (Kiki Layne) challenges the status quo, claiming that something sinister is happening in their town, Alice opens her eyes and has a hard look around. “I need you to listen to me,” she says. “They’re lying about everything.”
Are they living in Victory or the Twilight Zone?
“Don’t Worry Darling” has style to burn, an intriguing performance from Pugh, whose malleable face reveals wide arcs of emotions with simple, subtle movements. There’s a completely credible turn from pop star Styles, some very cool cars and impressive world building in the first half.
Director Olivia Wilde, who also produces and has a meaty supporting role, creates an uneasy utopia, a welcoming, but too-good-to-be-true place.
That’s the good stuff.
When the film turns into something that feels like an overly long episode of “Black Box,” it begins to show its wear and tear. The twist (no spoilers here) is handled clumsily. One can’t wonder if Rod Serling could have handled this in a more elegant and succinct way.
Unfortunately, “Don’t Worry Darling” will likely spur more gossip (re: “Spitgate” et al) than conversations about its themes. It does raise interesting questions about what constitutes a perfect life and the importance of having agency over one’s existence, but the bungled ending sucks whatever subtextual profundity may lie buried in Katie Silberman’s script.
BLONDE: 2 STARS
Marilyn Monroe is one of the most documented movie stars of all time. Her time on Earth inspired hundreds of thousands of posthumous column inches, hundreds of books and a slew of biopics and documentaries — the first, narrated by Rock Hudson, coming out less than a year after her 1962 death. There is a Broadway musical and even videos games bearing her likeness.
It begs the question, what is left to learn about this Hollywood icon in 2022?
If a new movie, “Blonde,” with Ana de Armas as the “Some Like It Hot” star, and now playing in theatres before it moves to Netflix, is any indication, not much.
The film begins its 166-minute journey with Norma Jeane Mortenson’s (Lily Fisher) unstable single mother Gladys (Julianne Nicholson) gifting her child with a surprise, battered photograph of a prosperous looking man in a fedora. That’s your father, the little girl is told. He is a very important man.
Thus begins, according to director Andrew Dominik, a Freudian lifelong search for a father figure, that would see her cycle through famous husbands like Joe DiMaggio (Bobby Cannavale) and Arthur Miller (Adrien Brody), both of whom she calls daddy in an annoying baby doll voice.
In Hollywood, now known as Marilyn Monroe, she makes a splash working as a model before being sucked into the studio system in a flurry of casting couches, emotional auditions and the creation of her bombshell image, a look that sold movie tickets but didn’t resonate with Norma Jeane. “She is pretty I guess, but it isn’t me,” she says. At one point, she yells, “Marilyn is not here,” during a contentious call with her studio boss.
As her life spirals downward, accelerated by alcohol and pills, depression caused by everyone’s inability to look past the blonde dye job to see who she really is and career dissatisfaction, her life and career begin to fall apart. “She is not a well girl,” her make-up artist (Toby Huss) says. “If she could be, she would be.”
“Blonde” is an art house biography. Fragmented and often impressionistic, it attempts to take you, not just inside Marilyn’s life, but also her psyche and body. Dominik’s camera does offer never-before-seen views of Monroe, from the considerable nudity to literally travelling inside her womb.
But to what effect? The insights into Monroe’s life and career, that she was, essentially, two sides of the same coin — Norma Jean on one, Marilyn on the other — aren’t original, even if their daring presentation is. The film’s advertising tagline, “Watched by all, seen by none,” sums up most of the film’s message in a much more powerful and mercifully succinct way.
Dominik does create memorable moments, a nightmarish red carpet walk at the “Some Like It Hot” premiere, for instance, visually conjures up the horror Marilyn must have felt as a reluctant superstar constantly in demand by people who wanted to use her. Less successful is footage of a missile launch to emulate the goings-on during a sex scene—most definitely not a love scene—between Marilyn and JFK (Caspar Phillipson).
Dominik, who adapted the script from the fictionalized and controversial Joyce Carol Oates novel “Blonde,” does craft some interesting dialogue to bring Marilyn’s state-of-mind in focus—”Marilyn doesn’t have any well-being, she has a career,” she says—but he also includes some absolute clunkers, like the unintentionally hilarious, “I like to watch myself in the mirror. I like to watch myself on the toilet,” uttered by Edward G. Robinson Jr. (Evan Williams). That is “Mommy Dearest” level writing.
As Marilyn, de Armas is fearless, and does inhabit Monroe’s vulnerability and intellect, and looks enough like her to complete the illusion. My only quibble is that sometimes de Armas sounds like Marilyn and sometimes sounds like Marilyn doing an impression of de Armas.
I’m sure “Blonde” won’t be the last Marilyn Monroe biopic, but it will be the last one I devote three hours to watching. Not because it is definitive, but because I think that everything that needs to be said about the later movie star has already been said.
SIDNEY: 4 STARS
Sidney Poitier, who passed away in January 2022, led a remarkable life, one vividly portrayed in the Oprah Winfrey-produced documentary “Sidney,” now steaming on Apple TV+. “He doesn’t make movies, he makes milestones,” says U.S. President Barack Obama in the film. “Milestones of America’s progress.”
In an interview shot with Winfrey in 2012, the “To Sir with Love” actor, staring directly into the camera, tells of his childhood in Nassau. A master storyteller, he recalls how he almost died as a baby, shares wonderful stories about his loving parents, recalls seeing a car for the first time, and marvels at his first glance into a mirror.
His move to the United States from a predominantly Black community in the Bahamas, is fraught with racism and threats of violence from the Ku Klux Klan, but tempered by kindness from a waiter who helps him learn to read, using the newspaper as a textbook.
Landing in Harlem, he is introduced to the world of acting, and has the good fortune to go on as an understudy in a New York City stage production on the same night a big-time Broadway producer is in the house. That leg up set on a path that would see him become the first Black man to win the Academy Award for Best Actor (for 1963’s “Lilies of the Field”), a civil right activist and diplomat.
It is a comprehensive, linear look at Poitier’s life, one that brings Winfrey to tears, and in the retelling of a pivotal scene in “In the Heat of the Night,” where Poitier, as detective Virgil Tibbs responds to being slapped by a white redneck by slapping him back, brings a delightful response from Morgan Freeman.
Director Reginald Hudlin assembles a mix of archival footage, new interviews with Halle Berry, Denzel Washington, Spike Lee, Winfrey and others, and plenty of film clips, to present a well told story of a well lived and influential life. The result is an entertaining and informative doc about an extraordinary life. “When I die, I will not be afraid of having lived,” Poitier said.
BANDIT: 3 STARS
Based on the novel “The Flying Bandit” by Robert Knuckle, “Bandit” is the story of a charming thief who says he robbed 50 Canadian banks because “that’s where the money is.”
Josh Duhamel plays Gilbert Galvan Jr., a career criminal who escapes from a Michigan prison in 1985, changes his name to Robert Whiteman, and high tails it over the border to Ontario. “When things go south, sometimes you got to go north,” he says.
Whiteman, when he isn’t romancing social worker Andrea (Elisha Cuthbert), is scoping out banks as a source of fast, ready cash. “No one’s born bad,” he says. “Like anything, it takes practice.”
Posing as a security analyst, he identifies security weaknesses at several local institutions, and concocts a wild plan. Wearing a series of outlandish disguises, he flies around Canada robbing banks, sometimes at a rate of two or three a day. “In the states they have armed guards at every bank around the country,” he says. “But in Canada, it’s like stealing candy with a mace.”
With the money rolling in, he looks for bigger opportunities with the help of mobster Tommy Kay (Mel Gibson as an Ottawa baddie).
Whiteman’s high-flying antics attract the attention of the media, who dub him the Flying Bandit, and hard-nosed cop Detective Snydes (Nestor Carbonell) vows to bring the travelling thief to justice.
With its light and breezy first half, “Bandit” takes a turn for the dramatic as Whiteman begins to feel the consequences of his life choices in the last half.
Like a CanCon “Catch Me If You Can,” “Bandit” is the story of a charismatic criminal whose non-violent antics are meant to entertain, not outrage. To that end, Duhamel hands in a likable, witty performance as a guy who does the wrong thing, but for the right reasons. He wants a family and a regular life, but circumstance and his predilection for breaking the law always seem to get the best of him. “It’s the only thing I’ve ever been good at,” he says of bank robbing.
Duhamel’s congeniality shaves off any rough edges the film might have developed in a more realistic portrayal of criminal life. Even Gibson, as the heavy, seems like Scorsese Lite.
Clocking in at just under two hours, “Bandit” sags in the middle. The disguises grow more and more eccentric, the robberies begin to blur into one another, but buoyed by enjoyable performances, the movie emerges as a slick, although not very deep, crime story.