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Director Olivia Wilde arrives at AMC Lincoln Square 13 for the premiere of Don't Worry Darling in New York City on Sept. 19.AMR ALFIKY/Reuters

In my career as a filmgoer, I have seen truly terrible movies. Don’t Worry Darling is not one of them. Then why are so many film critics – who, it must be said, are mostly men – treating this particular movie as if it’s an affront to their eyeballs, to cinema, to humankind?

Don’t Worry Darling has flaws. It’s flawed. But not enough to explain these over-the-top critiques: Excruciatingly redundant. Vapid and emotionally hollow. Drowns in frivolousness. Desperate for relevancy. Insubstantial, meagre, pedestrian. This feels like brigading, and I think there are two reasons for it.

First, there’s the gritstorm of gossip that clouded Don’t Worry Darling’s production and premiere. Director Olivia Wilde seems to have alienated one of her stars, Florence Pugh – she plays Alice, a perfect wife who cooks, cleans and cocktails in Victory, a sun-soaked desert community circa early-1960s – and bedded the other, Harry Styles (he plays Alice’s husband Jack, who toils on the top-secret Victory Project).

But people are only too ready to see a cat fight when two powerful women work together. Troubled productions are hardly rare. And cinema is chockablock with directors who sleep with their (younger) stars. It’s just that those productions are usually run by men. Critics are already anointing The Fabelmans as this year’s Oscar front-runner, and no one seems to be castigating its director, Steven Spielberg, for sleeping with his (younger) leading lady, Kate Capshaw, possibly when he was still married to Amy Irving. By no account did Wilde routinely scream at her cast and crew, a la David O. Russell, whose films are often lauded and go on to win awards.

Yet in their reviews of Don’t Worry Darling, critics from mainstream and trade outlets are attacking Wilde personally, calling her pompous, humourless, entitled and – most tellingly – icy. Might it be because Wilde is a triple threat – intelligent, ambitious, beautiful – and that’s one too many gifts, especially for a woman who doesn’t seem interested in playing nice?

Second, Wilde’s film seems to make a lot of critics … uncomfortable. Many complain that its third-act twist is a stretch, and it’s true, the storytelling is murkier than it should be. But it’s not as if the twists in, say, the critically beloved Fight Club and The Truman Show weren’t stretches; or as if the plot point in the Marvel Cinematic Universe where billions of people return to Earth after a five-year absence makes perfect sense. Could it be that, because the twist involves male nefariousness, it gets less of a pass?

More interesting to me is the fact that so many critics are insisting that Don’t Worry Darling offers nothing beyond what The Stepford Wives already covered in its 1975 and 2004 iterations: the idea that feminism threatens men who want to control women. I disagree. I saw a lot that’s new in Wilde’s film.

The men in The Stepford Wives are in a panic because they don’t want their wives to have independent lives. By contrast, the men in Don’t Worry Darling tell themselves they’re putting their wives first. (We certainly see that in the sex scene that appears in the trailer, in which Jack pleasures Alice.) They insist they’re not controlling their wives, they’re rescuing them from unpleasantness. This is a more nuanced take on how men keep women down. I’m not sure whether some critics failed to pick up on it, or just want to distance themselves from having any relationship with that kind of behaviour.

The “we’ve heard this before” argument also baffles me. All kinds of stories are told over and over. How many films boil down to “War is hell” or “Sports offers redemption” or “Cops are troubled?” In my opinion, women should make movies about how men abuse women – dozens of them; thousands of them – until men stop abusing women.

It’s true, things have changed for women since 2004. They’ve gotten worse in crucial ways. The overturning of Roe v. Wade in the U.S. is already affecting women’s health and reproductive freedom, and will have repercussions around the world. Amber Heard and women like her are besieged by violent threats on social media when they make a claim of abuse. A woman in Myrtle Beach, S.C., was arrested recently for wearing a thong bikini on the beach.

And the so-called Men’s Movement, led by antifeminists like Andrew Tate, is on the rise. Wilde flicks at that movement in her film. I wish she’d made it even more overt.

(If you don’t know who Tate is, the short version is, he advocates a violently retro view of male/female relations, including the idea that a woman’s genitals “belong to her boyfriend”; he directs his screeds toward young men; high school teachers in the U.S. are reporting upticks in sexual harassment among their teenage students who follow him; he had 4.6 million Instagram followers in mid-August, up drastically from one million in early June; and his name has been tagged in 13 billion TikTok views.)

And if you think these kinds of things won’t happen in Canada – well, many people pooh-poohed the idea that the alt-right would get a toehold here, and look where that got us.

Part of the reason women are losing rights, I believe, is that too many good men are staying quiet. Maybe they think, “I’m not that guy, I could never be that guy.” Maybe it’s #MeToo fatigue, or the fear that if they step up, something in their own pasts will damn them. During the just-concluded Toronto International Film Festival, I saw a lot of movies made by women in which white men were the villains, enough to make me think, “This is precisely why the patriarchy didn’t make space for women to make movies. They know they’re culpable.”

At least one male critic seems to think as I do. According to Kyle Buchanan of The New York Times, some of his counterparts are uncomfortable even with the undeniably artistically successful film Women Talking, written and directed by Sarah Polley, which details horrific sexual and physical abuse in a tight-knit Mennonite community. “Some of the male viewers I spoke to after the Toronto screening,” Buchanan wrote, “proved surprisingly resistant to the film’s feature-long debate about sexual violence.”

As for Don’t Worry Darling, no less a critic than The New Yorker’s Anthony Lane complains that “the dystopian disclosures of Wilde’s film feel so easy.” I agree that Wilde’s film doesn’t achieve all its artistic goals. But to me, nothing about what she’s saying feels easy.

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