OPINION: As a singer he’s got undoubted skills, as a showman his concert attendances speak for themselves, but I’m afraid, on the evidence so far, there’s only one direction Harry Styles can go as an actor – up.
Yes, he’s helped generate plenty of hype and headlines around two films at the world’s big “fall film festivals” last month, but he’s one of the weaker links of both Don’t Worry Darling (out in Kiwi cinemas this week) and My Policeman (due to hit Prime Video on November 4).
More Donny than Mark Wahlberg, Madonna than Gaga, both flicks expose his emoting and line-delivery limitations, his characters coming across as stiff and wooden, when the scenarios demand more from him.
To be fair, he is somewhat restrained by the roles he is playing, both uptight husbands struggling with their demons. But that the two films fail to reach their promised potential is unfortunately at least partly down to him not selling either Darling’s Jack Chambers or Policeman’s Tom Burgess in a truly convincing way.
Harry Styles and Emma Corrin star in the romantic drama My Policeman, based on the novel of the same name by Bethan Roberts.
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It’s true there are flashes of passion and fire on display in Olivia Wilde’s stylish psychological thriller, but the rest of the time you’re left wondering about his wavering accent, distracted by his dapper wardrobe (as most usually are on the real red carpet as well) and marvelling at how mesmerising Florence Pugh is as his increasingly paranoid and distraught wife Alice.
Its Stepford Wife dystopia, Shyamalan-esque rug pull and Aronofsky-like imagery aside, Darling charts the descent of the Chambers’ marriage, from seemingly mutually satisfying coupling to deep mistrust, with Pugh and Styles pitched as a kind of Winset and DiCaprio in Revolutionary Road. But while she is a tour de force, he is a cul-de-sac of emotion, a ploddingly predictable caricature of ‘50s husbandry that Paul Bettany made a better job of as an automaton pretending to be human in the opening episode of WandaVision.
Likewise, in director Michael Grandage’s love triangle of a romantic drama, he’s the third wheel behind two terrific turns from his onscreen lovers Emma Corrin and David Dawson. Sure we know his character is leading a double life and attempting to gaslight his wife into thinking there’s nothing more than friendship between him and museum curator Patrick Hazelwood, but Styles does stoic silence just a little too well for that story’s own good.
And it certainly doesn’t help him that the actor playing the much older version of his Tom, Linus Roache, delivers a far more nuanced and heart-rending turn, struggling to bottle up all the resentment and regret he has from past events. You can see the strain and toll flicker across Roache’s face as he wrestles with and attempts to reconcile his emotions, Styles, in comparison, is far more of a blank canvas.
We’re told that in preparing for the role, the former boy band member memorised the entire script and was able to recite every character’s line in a given scene. After viewing the result, I can only think that maybe he should have spent his time more focused on establishing the motivation, meaning and inner-world behind just Tom’s words.
It reminded me of a scene in Darling where Jack eagerly attempts to make his wife dinner, but eventually admits that “I don’t think these mashed potatoes are going to work”.
“That’s because you need to boil them first,” she gently advises.
But while I think all this talk of Styles being nominated for awards is just bluster (although it will be a good test to see just how far the notoriously star-chasing, obsequious Hollywood Foreign Press and their currently tarnished Golden Globes have reformed) and baiting his army of admirers (and having seen them first-hand recently in Toronto they are indeed vast – and committed), it would be churlish to write him off as an actor just yet.
Both Bowie and Jagger’s performance-quality ebbed and flowed throughout their screen careers: for every Labyrinth there was an Absolute Beginners, every Performance a Freejack, and just look at how far Billie Piper and Mandy Moore have come from their pop-star beginnings.
And besides, even if a marvellous movie career doesn’t beckon, a Marvel one does in the short-term. Teased at the end of 2021’s Eternals, Styles brief appearance as the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s big bad Thanos’ brother Eros elicited many a gasp and shriek of delight. It would be a severe understatement to say his return is “eagerly anticipated” by many.
Don’t Worry Darling opens in cinemas nationwide on October 6. My Policeman is scheduled to debut on Prime Vide on November 4.