Double Take: In the coming weeks, established pop star and rising actor Harry Styles will be leading two of the season’s hottest titles. But what does the actual work look like?
In the coming weeks, veteran pop star and aspiring actor Harry Styles will helm two of the season’s hottest hits, Olivia Wilde’s scandal-ridden Don’t Worry Darling and Michael Grandage’s gay romance My Policeman.
In Wilde’s film, he is a too good to be true husband who wants to give his wife (Florence Pugh) a better life, even if it’s built on secrets, lies and doubles. In “My Policeman,” he’s… a too good to be true husband trying to give his wife (Emma Corrin) and gay lover (David Dawson) a better life, all on secrets, lies, and double-crosses.
IndieWire Editor-in-Chief Kate Erbland and Deputy Editor-in-Chief Ryan Lattanzio have both seen the films and have plenty to say about them (Erbland’s review of Venice’s Don’t Worry Darling is here and Lattanizo’s TIFF review of My Policeman is here). , but there’s more to discover in Style’s acting.
Which performance is better? Which movie suits him better? And at the heart of these questions: Is one of the two services really good?
KATE ERBLAND: Any discussion of Styles’ acting career must begin with his debut role as a young soldier, Alex, in Christopher Nolan’s ambitious World War II drama, Dunkirk. It was a slick debut for the twisting pop star, and he was one of many stars in Nolan’s sprawling tic-tac drama. He fitted perfectly into an impressive cast that included everyone from Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance to Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy.
These are optimal conditions for a first role and styles delivered. His Alex quickly mingled with the other young stars for a performance that IndieWire’s David Ehrlich noted contained “great urgency.” A recurring compliment I’ve heard (and, to some degree, felt) about this accomplishment is that people didn’t even realize it was him.
This is smart work and exactly what you want when you are a young actor who is already very famous. It wasn’t a shooting star, but it didn’t have to be: it is beautiful a star. It showed interest in moving out of its current notoriety to try something really different. The problem is that the tilt doesn’t carry over to these rollers and it makes the job worse.
How do you feel about Styles’ current lineup of vibrant roles? Does he get better? Worse? Is a viable acting career on the horizon for him?
Ryan Lattanzio: While any discussion of Harry Styles acting should stay with the work itself, it’s difficult to drown out his dubious, even blubbering, comments on the press tours for Don’t Worry and My Policeman. At the Venice Film Festival, he told reporters, “What I like about acting is that I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing.” He also described ‘Don’t Worry’ as ‘a real ‘ Go to the Theater’-Film” (“Film Movie!”). In a previous interview with Rolling Stone, he said the gay love story My Policeman was “not a gay story about these guys being gay.”
You can’t blame Styles for being green amidst press corps discussions — he’s only done four films, and that’s if you count his “Eternals” cameo after the credits. He’s a pop star trying to mold himself into the image of an actor as other pop stars have tried, some with more success (Lady Gaga) than others (Madonna). His remarks reflect a misunderstanding of the craft – or at least a lesser appreciation for it – and that is reflected in his work.
As I argued in my review of My Policeman, Styles appears to have fundamentally misunderstood the material. As secret policeman Tom, he gives a performance that is in fact not about “a gay story about these guys being gay”. He read the film more as a story about ‘wasted time’ – it is, but it’s also a very gay story, specifically about the repression that was essential for criminalized homosexuals in the UK in the 1950s to make ends meet get. Styles’ performance – wildly outshone by his co-stars David Dawson as his urbane secret lover and Emma Corrin as his bearded lady – lacks the necessary inner growl and turmoil to convey such specifically gay pain.
As for his performance in Don’t Worry Darling, a viral scene in which Styles takes on Florence Pugh and denounces how her character’s curiosity is destroying her perfectly groomed life in the Stepford-Lite community of Victory has apparently gone viral something like that Olivia Wilde cries on set. That may be true, but it’s also likely that their praise is aimed at viewing a film that was on life support long before its premiere. Her biased anecdote also suggests a disconnect from her audience: This Styles scene and another she described both end up with a comical impact (believe the memes).
Are we going to see the same movie she thinks he made? And while Styles may love the fact that he doesn’t know what he’s doing when it comes to acting, what does that mean for the rest of us watching?
Still, it has to count for something that filmmakers like Christopher Nolan and renowned British theater director Michael Grandage Styles have cast in their films. Kate, what shall we say positive about Styles acting?
HERITAGE LAND: I found that I instinctively wanted to find something Well in the work of Styles. Why not believe the best people and their career aspirations? After watching both Don’t Worry Darling and My Policeman in just a week, the Darling trailer has the best sequence I can remember: you can see his most stirring performance without they need to see whole movie.
It’s a small thing, but it’s perhaps the only time Styles seems to step beyond himself or the big idea of Capital A acting. It’s an early scene in which his Jack Pughs watches Alice dance and drink her way through a particularly loud dinner party. He’s hypnotized by her, maybe hypnotized by the whole thing and that Movie-ness of everything, and for a moment he’s fully present as Jack. We see the world of the film through his eyes, but that soon disappears in the crush of Darling. Later scenes, in which Styles is tasked with much heavier lifting, only draw attention. No wonder Styles is hooked on the “movie movie” of it all, because we can never forget what we’re watching.
Which brings us back to the key question for Darling: Are we watching the same movie that Wilde thinks she made? When it comes to My Policeman, are we watching the same movie that Styles thinks he made? I think the answer to both questions is a resounding no. Art is always open to interpretation, but there seems to be a fundamental disconnect here that irrevocably overshadows the work.
Despite what Wilde (and presumably Styles) believes, “Don’t Worry Darling” is decided Not about female pleasure; no matter what Styles says, “My Policeman” is Absolutely a gay story. That means Styles works from a limited perspective. Maybe he can overcome that with better projects, clearer direction, and more knowledge. Do you think he has a future here?
Lattanzio: Not to rake in on Harry Styles’ non-diegetic discussions of his own films, but when he mentioned “My Cop,” Styles heralded the film as a groundbreaking portrayal of sex between men, for what it really is, and Not as is usually shown in movies: “So much gay sex in the movie is two guys going after it and it kind of takes the tenderness out of him. I would imagine there will be some people watching it who were very much alive during that time when it was illegal to be gay, and [director Michael Grandage] wanted to show that it is tender and loving and sensitive.”
His assessment that “so much gay sex in the movie” is tantamount to vigorous pounding and nothing more to suggest his knowledge of mainstream queer cinema is limited to “cruising.” This can also tell us something about his acting: a way forward for Styles might be to go back to basics and watch those “movies” and study the performances that inspired so many before him. Like many aspiring actors, Styles wants to model himself on Marlon Brando and Joaquin Phoenixe. He wants roles that make him feel uncomfortable in his own skin and therefore allow him to express the instability beneath his pop star identity. In other words, roles that show a more complicated and daring side of man.
Actors like Brando and Montgomery Clift, or even Al Pacino in Cruising or Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain, explored the psyche of sexually ambiguous characters and fearlessly projected that inner conflict onto screen. David Bowie’s films could also point Styles in the right direction; He was a pop star whose roles were as sexually fluid, fabulously offbeat, and emotionally as unfathomable as he was. Styles seems to see acting as the destined next step in his fame, an arduous inevitability on the road to fame rather than a passionate natural extension of his artistic talents.
He has plenty of those in the already established track he owns. As I write, I’m looking at tracks from Harry’s House, Style’s Billboard-topping album from last May. He is a songwriter extraordinaire and a brilliant singer – his metaphors are lyrically playful and complex, his singing and musicianship as strong as any. But at this point, the screen isn’t for him.
Don’t Worry Darling hits theaters this Friday, September 23. My Policeman hits theaters on Friday. October 21, followed by a streaming debut on Prime Video on Friday November 4.
https://www.indiewire.com/2022/09/harry-styles-good-actor-1234764798/ Are Harry Styles’ acting performances good?