I think it’s a shame that Olivia Wilde went from being an actress, to a damn fine director (her first movie Booksmart was an underrated comedy classic), and in this, her sophomore effort…so many people are talking more about her being served papers while promoting this, firing Shia LeBouf, dating her younger lead actor, and supposedly fighting with lead actress Florence Pugh, or whether or not Harry Styles spit on Chris Pine. Wilde gave us a movie that’s so stylish (with Styles), with interesting production values, sound, soundtrack, and costume design – all show that she’s the real deal behind the camera. It’s a shame the 3rd act is a mess, the story has plot holes, and it’s all nothing we haven’t seen before. It’s the Stepford Wives meets Twilight Zone. In fact, it’s so derivative, it even reminded me of two different Jim Carey movies.
The story takes place in the town of Victory, in the ‘50s, with beautiful mid-century houses, beautiful wives that like to clean, prepare dinner for their men like they’re June Cleaver on speed, and the men reward them with – well, Harry Styles walks in and throws his wife on the kitchen table and does something that’s a pet peeve of mine. It’s when a couple is so into each other, they have to have sex the minute they walk in the door – right there, and are willing to throw all the food, plates, china, crashing onto the ground. Heaven forbid they go to the bedroom, or to the couch that’s 10 feet away. Filmmakers think this is so sexy, but I just keep thinking of how much in real life the women would complain that they spent hours preparing the dinner and it’s now ruined on the floor (along with the fine china). Now, when Jack Nicholson did the same move on a kitchen table with Jessica Lange in The Postman Always Rings Twice, it had an element of sexiness and danger, so that kind of worked (it might also be because I had a thing for Jessica Lange, but I digress).
All the men in Victory work for the top secret Victory Project. We see them all drive off to work at the same time, in their cool old Chevy’s and T-birds; although the best car is the ‘62 Corvette that is purchased mid-way into the movie, with a neighbor claiming her husband is going to want to have sex with the car (which is totally not why I purchased mine, but again, I digress).
After they drive off to work, with the dutiful wives waving bye and blowing kisses, they immediately start cooking, cleaning, going to a strict ballet class, and lounging at a pool and gossiping.
Alice (Florence Pugh) and Jack (Harry Styles) often have shin-digs with their friends/co-workers. Dean is played by comedic actor Nick Kroll, who has a great look for this period piece. There’s also Peg (Kate Berlant), and Alice’s BFF Bunny (Olivia Wilde). When everyone keeps talking about “Frank” you can’t help but think of Frank Sinatra, with this being a Palm Springs type community, and the time period. He’s played by Chris Pine, and he’s great. You realize early on there’s something sinister behind that smile and the goofy philosophizing he does.
Wilde starts things off well, as the look of the picture is great. And how can you not love hearing Ray Charles’ “Night Time is the Right Time,” Little Anthony’s “Tears on my Pillow,” the Crew Cuts “Sh-Boom (Life Could Be a Dream),” and two of the best songs in music history – “Sleep Walk” by Santo and Johnny and “Sing Sing Sing” by Louis Prima. And that dance hall favorite is going to be followed by Styles tap dancing the hell out of his scene.
Now, because of my love of music, I often mention the songs played in films, but this time I did it because it’s hard to say much about the movie without spoilers. I’ll continue with this review being spoiler free.
When one of the women in the group (Kiki Layne) starts questioning things, that’s when what we all assumed – that maybe everything isn’t perfect in this utopian city – is as it seems. This gets Alice asking questions. That leads to her having a meeting with a psychiatrist, and then things start to get a bit repetitive.
There are a few complaints I’ve heard other critics make, in which they’re totally wrong. They say that Styles and Pugh don’t have much chemistry. I think for the story that’s being told, it works as it should. Others say Styles' performance isn’t so strong. Again, for who that character is (when you find everything out), it works just fine. A few have complained about Chris Pine and his portrayal, but there’s really no other way (or no other actor)that could have also done what was required of that character that would have made those same critics happy.
The bigger problem is that Wilde is a bit off with the pacing of the film, and once the other shoe drops after 90 minutes into this – the rest becomes anticlimactic. And if you have a really weak third act, you lose the audience. The plot holes don’t help matters. And that might be why this is flirting around the 35% ratings on Rotten Tomatoes (although, to show you how bad the critics are on that website, they rated Barbarian in the low 90%; anybody that thinks that is a better movie than this, needs their head examined).
This gets 2 ½ stars out of 5, and I’ll be anxiously awaiting Wilde’s third film.