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Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Opportunities for female directors have only been growing in recent years, a development that’s taken too long to happen. One of the beneficiaries of this sea change is Olivia Wilde, who made her directorial debut with 2019’s well-received Booksmart. Now she’s back with her highly-anticipated (for an assortment of reasons) sophomore film, Don’t Worry Darling.

The film stars Florence Pugh as Alice Chambers, who lives in a utopian small desert town with her husband, Jack (Harry Styles), who works for a company called Victory. The town has all the trappings of an idyllic version of the 1950s, from the style of the houses to the cars to the way the wives dote on their husbands. But right away it’s clear there’s something off about the town, especially since everyone seems to hold up the company’s leader, Frank (Chris Pine), as some kind of infallible person.

Olivia Wilde and Nick Kroll in Don't Worry Darling Olivia Wilde and Nick Kroll in Don't Worry Darling Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Alice starts to sense the cracks in town’s veneer, and gradually tests the boundaries that everyone else adheres to faithfully. Her suspicions only deepen when another wife disappears, and anyone with whom she chooses to confide gaslights her into thinking that she’s losing her mind. Trying to figure out what’s real or not drives her to do many things that threaten the whole town’s way of life.

Collaborating once again with Booksmart writer Katie Silberman, Wilde creates a mysterious and tension-filled film that is about as far away from the revelry of her previous film as you could get. There are times when the story starts to become too enigmatic for its own good, but Wilde seems to know exactly when to add on a new layer to keep viewers interested in where the story will take them next.

Wilde and Silberman also continue to explore gender politics through this well-told allegory. The actions of Alice and the other women (which include Wilde, Gemma Chan, Kiki Layne, Kate Berlant, and others) come off as Stepford Wives-ish, but they also act in ways inconsistent with people who have been brainwashed. When secrets finally start to be revealed, the story takes on a deeper meaning of male insecurity and female empowerment.

Chris Pine in Don't Worry Darling Chris Pine in Don't Worry Darling Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

The behind-the-scenes technical team greatly aids in the mood of the film. The production design by Katie Byron is impeccable, and it and the desert landscape are shot extremely well by cinematographer Matthew Libatique. Especially standing out is the score by John Powell, who utilizes unconventional sounds and voices to create music that elevates every scene to which it’s attached.

Pugh has already been a star for several years, and she shows yet again why she’s held in such high esteem. She brings just the right level of angst, confusion, and anger to the evolution of her character, making her compelling throughout. Styles acquits himself well in his biggest role to date, never coming off as just a singer pretending to be an actor. Pine is also great as the creepy-but-charismatic Frank, demonstrating skills that every good cult leader needs.

Don’t Worry Darling holds a lot more than what it shows on the surface, making it a great second film for the talented Wilde. With a proven ability to jump between genres effortlessly, she should be given many more opportunities to tell stories on the big screen.

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Don't Worry Darling opens in theaters on September 23.

Don't Worry Darling | Official Trailer www.youtube.com

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

New Texas-based mental health subscription box plans national launch at SXSW 2023

Speak Now and Hold Your Peace

Mental health apps are so alluring, but once you’ve recorded your two-week streak and things are feeling a little more organized, it can be hard to keep going. It’s hard enough to keep up with journaling and a great bedtime routine, and many lovely self-help tools also lose their effectiveness when the novelty wears off.

A smart company might harness that novelty as its hook — and an easily distracted self-helper won’t fall off the wagon. Like many other companies in the mental health space, Austin-based Speak As One will work on a subscription model, but this one won’t languish, unused on a credit card statement.

The service, which plans to launch during SXSW 2023, delivers boxes of tangible mental health tools, inspiration, games, and even sensory objects that act as a monthly nudge to try something new, and curiosity takes care of the rest.

A sample box included:

  • Stress balls with short inspirational phrases by MindPanda
  • An Emotional First Aid Kit containing advice for situations as they come up, like sleeplessness and feelings of inadequacy
  • Tiny colorful putties at different resistances by Flint Rehab
  • A notebook, and two books: Athlete Mental Health Playbook and 1000 Unique Questions About Me
  • Other small items

It’s more than packing and shipping out a few toys each month. The boxes are curated with help from a licensed therapist, who leaves a personal note along with tips on how to use the items inside and additional resources. There is one type of box right now that aims to “reduce anxiety, increase mindfulness, and promote peace and balance,” but for further customization (for $10 more), the team is working on boxes tailored to first responders, veterans, athletes, and people in “recovery.”

Speak As One emphasizes community stories in its branding outside the delivery box, and uses inspiration from “influencers” (less content creators and more so people who can embody a relatable story) to build the specialty boxes. The company’s YouTube channel shares dozens of interviews with founder Julie Korioth, a former board member for Austin’s SIMS Foundation, a well-respected mental health resource for members of the local music industry.

“With hundreds of millions of people struggling with mental health, and COVID making the issue much worse, society continues to ostracize those who openly discuss mental health issues,” said Korioth in a release. “I founded this company so we can change the way the world sees, discusses, and supports mental health. Our goal is to promote empathy, connectedness, acceptance, and thoughtfulness with an innovative toolkit that caters to specific needs."

In addition to offering a nudge, these boxes could make great care packages for a loved one who is feeling introspective or going through a significant life event. It is possible to buy gift boxes, if presentation is your thing, but it’d be just as easy to repackage a box that comes before the receiver ready to appreciate the items at home.

The cost of one box is manageable at $49.99 (especially considering the retail value of products included, which the sample box far exceed), but for many subscribers this adds up fast. Luckily, there is no pressure to continue a lengthy commitment — subscriptions last between one and six months, so users have plenty of time to reconsider and sit with the items that have already been delivered.

"The goal is to meet our audience at any phase of their mental health journey,” said Korioth. “We’re creating change and a global life-long support system for children and adults dealing with mental health challenges. We simultaneously highlight businesses, the tech community, athletes, and artists doing wonderful work in this space.”

The company plans to partner with corporations to connect with employees and provide boxes to individuals the company chooses, and will turn some content into session albums with sales proceeds dedicated to mental health research.

More information and links to preorder are available at speakasone.com.

Award-winning Christian country star Lauren Daigle to make her RodeoHouston debut in 2023

daigle's debut

As longtime H-Towners know, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo may take place in spring, but rodeo is all year. With that in mind, country music fans can get excited now about a major artist's debut next year.

Christian country star Lauren Daigle will make her RodeoHouston debut on Thursday, March 2, 2023, the rodeo announced. Tickets for her performance go on sale Thursday, December 8 at rodeohouston.com.

One of the most acclaimed and beloved performers in her genre, Daigle boasts two Grammy Awards, seven Billboard Music Awards, and four American Music Awards. She scored three No. 1 songs alone with her debut album, How Can It Be (which went platinum): “First,” “O’Lord,” and “Trust in You.”

Her follow-up album, Look Up Child, won her a Grammy, aided in part by the smash single “You Say,” which is currently listed as the longest-running No. 1 song to appear on any weekly Billboard chart.

Far more than specifically a Christian act, Daigle has won a legion of country and crossover fans with her spirited and soulful tones, a passion for charity and giving back, and an authentic connection to her live audience. Not surprisingly, Daigle has 4.7 million monthly listens on Spotify and nearly 3 million subscribers on YouTube.

Expect these tickets to go fast, as Daigle is a star who's shine is only getting brighter with every album, single, and show.

Daigle's news comes after RodeoHouston revealed its highly anticipated Opening Day performer announcement. CultureMap was first to report that Parker McCollum will take the NRG Stadium stage on Tuesday, February 28, 2023.

More entertainers will be announced as next year's event draws near. The 2023 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and all RodeoHouston performances are scheduled for February 28–March 19, 2023 at NRG Park.

Gooey-centered cookie bakery opens in Tanglewood/Briargrove area with oversized treats and more

who wants a cookie

A Cypress-based cookie bakery is ready to open its first retail location in Briargrove. Milk Mustache will open its new location in the former Michael’s Cookie Jar space at 1864 Fountain View Dr.

As CultureMap reported in July, founder Tracy Jones started Milk Mustache by giving away cookies to first responders, drive-by birthday parties, and daycare centers. Eventually, the enthusiastic response prompted her to turn the side hustle into a business by opening a bakery in Cypress.

Over time, she developed her recipe as a hefty, 6-ounce cookie that’s approximately 4 inches in diameter. Similar in approach to New York’s acclaimed Levain Bakery, Milk Mustache cookies have crispy edges and gooey centers.

“We call it ‘baked to perfection’ where it is soft and dense and gooey but it’s not raw,” Jones said in July. “That is the sweet spot.”

At the new location, Milk Mustache will sell 12 flavors of cookies. They include eight of the bakery’s most popular flavors — Campfire Bliss, Chocolate Chip, Cookies & Cream, Golden Goose, Nutella Dream, Oatmeal Chocolate Walnut, Red Velvet Cream Cheese, and Snickerdoodle — and four features that will rotate weekly.

In addition, Jones is introducing a bar devoted to edible cookie dough with six different flavors available by the pint or scoop. Diners will be able to add any of 10 different toppings to their cookie dough.

Milk Mustache will celebrate its grand opening from 12 pm-5 pm this Saturday and Sunday, December 2 and 3. The first 100 customers on both days will receive one free chocolate chip mini cookie, and an hourly raffle will give away a free 12-pack of cookies. A portion of proceeds will benefit the Alzheimer's Association of Houston & Southeast Texas on Saturday and Houston Children's Charity on Sunday.

“I am thrilled to be opening Milk Mustache’s first storefront location,” Jones said in a statement. “After opening the cookie factory in 2020, I knew I wanted the next step to be a beautiful, inviting cookie shop people would look forward to visiting, and Tanglewood was a perfect fit. I started baking cookies as a way to bring joy to those around me, and it has been so incredible to see Milk Mustache grow into what it is today.”

Photo by Michael Anthony

The Campfire Bliss has a marshmallow center.