The desert looks sprawling and lovely, the Oscar-nominated star intense. It's a huge, splashy film generating the kind of early interest publicists would kill for. And no one except critics and lucky audience-goers to the Venice Film Festival have seen it.
It's "Don't Worry Darling," the film that may finally answer the question: Is all publicity good publicity?
"Don't Worry Darling" has certainly had its share. The second, full-length feature outing from director Olivia Wilde – known for her acting on the stage, on medical drama "House" and in movies like "Better Living Through Chemistry," before moving behind the camera for 2019's "Booksmart" – the film seemed poised for success. The trailer was mysterious and epic. Billed as a psychological thriller, the story revolves around a seemingly happy couple in the 1950s, living in a perfect company town.
Multiple scandals, rumors and conspiracy theories later, the film now seems set for infamy. Is this a case of gossip derailing, or at least drawing attention away from, the work of a female director, already a rarity in Hollywood? Or is there an actual fire behind this smoke, maybe three or four fires?
Salon breaks down the buzz around "Don't Worry Darling" with a timeline that attempts to explain the public's interest in the film (or more precisely, its cast and director) and its many controversies.
Just a few months after the film "Don't Worry Darling" was announced in 2019, with Wilde slated to direct, Wilde and her partner, "Ted Lasso" star Jason Sudeikis, split. The pair were not married but have two children together.
In April, a cast for the film was announced, featuring Florence Pugh, Chris Pine and Shia LaBeouf.
Harry Styles performing on the Main Stage at War Memorial Park on May 29, 2022 in Coventry, England. (Joseph Okpako/WireImage/Getty Images)By the fall, LaBeouf was out, replaced by Harry Styles in the role of Jack, the romantic lead opposite Pugh's Alice. Known as a musician, including as a member of the popular boy band One Direction, Styles had some acting experience, including "Dunkirk," and is starring in the upcoming film Prime Video movie "My Policeman."
In December, LaBeouf was named the subject of a lawsuit by musician FKA twigs who alleges the actor, her former partner, abused her physically, emotionally and sexually during their relationship. These were not the only abuse claims leveled at LaBeouf, who in 2020, shortly after he was out of the "Don't Worry Darling" cast, sought residential treatment for an undisclosed issue.
Filming wrapped on the film, about a month after Wilde and Styles were seen holding hands at a wedding. The two met on the film but would not confirm their relationship. The 10-year age difference between the two was the subject of some outdated controversy. As Rolling Stone wrote, "Anonymous tweeters acted appalled at their age difference (as if a 28-year-old man dating a 38-year-old woman isn't completely normal) and criticized the director-actor dating dynamic (as if there isn't a long history of beloved Hollywood couples meeting the same way)."
On stage at an event in Los Vegas while promoting the film, Wilde was served with legal papers. Derailed from her speech, she opened the envelope and read it swiftly and silently, then returned to introducing a clip of her film without comment. When asked by the press later about the contents of the envelope, Wilde said the papers were Sudeikis' custody filing.
Sudeikis later claimed he had no idea the papers would be served to Wilde on stage in that way.
After fans noticed a lack of "Don't Worry Darling" posts on Pugh's social media – in sharp contrast to Wilde's feed, where the director publicized her upcoming film often, including copious praise of Styles' work — Pugh talked about the film in a Harper's Bazaar interview. Wilde had brought up the film's sex scenes in her own press, claiming they filled a gap in representing female pleasure, telling Vogue in late 2021, "I kept saying, 'Why isn't there any good sex in film anymore?'"
But Pugh told Harper's Bazaar in August 2022, "When it's reduced to your sex scenes, or to watch the most famous man in the world go down on someone, it's not why we do it . . . It's not why I'm in this industry."
Speculation of a feud between Wilde and Pugh began to gather momentum, prompted by the incongruous way the actor and the director talked about sex scenes in the movie, claims that Wilde was distracted from directing on set by her budding relationship with Styles and rumors of a pay disparity between Styles and Pugh, with some claiming the male star made three times as much money as the female star. In an email to Vanity Fair, Wilde denied the pay disparity claim, calling it "invented clickbait."
Shia LaBeouf and Florence Pugh (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)That email was part of a larger interview with Wilde, a cover story where the director talked candidly about the reason for LaBeouf's replacement. Perhaps too candidly. In the Vanity Fair story, Wilde claimed, "His process was not conducive to the ethos that I demand . . . He has a process that, in some ways, seems to require a combative energy, and I don't personally believe that is conducive to the best performances. I believe that creating a safe, trusting environment is the best way to get people to do their best work. Ultimately, my responsibility is to the production and to the cast to protect them."
LaBeouf responded immediately, firing back in emails to Variety that he was not fired from the production, as the Vanity Fair story claimed, but that he quit. Not only that, Wilde wanted him to return, as evidenced in text messages the actor shared with Variety.
He also shared a video allegedly sent to him by Wilde on August 19, 2020 (two days after he claims to have quit the film, due to a lack of rehearsal time) in which Wilde says, "I, too, am heartbroken and I want to figure this out . . . You know, I think this might be a bit of a wake-up call for Miss Flo, and I want to know if you're open to giving this a shot with me, with us. If she really commits, if she really puts her mind and heart into it at this point and if you guys can make peace — and I respect your point of view, I respect hers — but if you guys can do it, what do you think? Is there hope?"
It was the "Miss Flo" comment that seemed to galvanize the internet, its seemingly dismissive tone about the young woman turning some fans against the director.
"Don't Worry Darling" premiered at the Venice Film Festival on Sept. 7. The day before, Pugh was noticeably absent from a press conference about the film. The actor's only press commitment was apparently attending the Venice premiere. Asked about Pugh's absence, Wilde cited scheduling conflicts and a late-arriving flight. However, before the press conference ended, Pugh was spotted on the streets of Venice in a bright and summery Valentino ensemble, holding a beloved Aperol spritz.
Meanwhile, Pine's mannerisms were also remarked on at the festival. He appeared to disassociate during interviews, where Styles gave responses such as the now-legendary, "My favorite thing about the movie is, like, it feels like a movie. Like, you know, go to the theater film movie." You can now buy this interview response on a T-shirt.
Once Pugh showed up memorably on the red carpet, several of her co-stars, including Pine, were quick to heap support on the star, taking real and imagined pictures and vocally praising her. The whole cast, including Styles and Wilde, posed for pictures, with both Pugh and Wilde and Wilde and Styles staying notably apart, which didn't help the feud rumors and also ignited some new ones that perhaps Wilde and Styles had split or sought to distance themselves from each other.
Once everyone finally sat down in the theater — as one Twitter user pointed out, "whoever made this seating arrangement has planned a wedding with divorced parents"— the drama was not done, as Styles appeared, in some videos, to be spitting upon Pine as the musician took his seat beside Pine. Representatives from Pine have vehemently denied the spitting allegation, though the conspiracy has taken on a life of its own on the internet with spitting truthers. Pine did clearly put on sunglasses as the house lights dimmed for the start of the film, leading some to speculate he was about to take a nap. Perhaps he simply forgot eyeglasses except his tinted lenses?
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After the film, the audience gave a standing ovation, which may have been cut short by Pugh leaving quickly.
What about the actual movie? Early reviews have been mixed, with many critics praising Pugh's and Pine's performances and Wilde's direction and role in the film, but being less effusive about both Styles as well as the story itself.
We'll have to wait and see. In the meantime, we're actually quite worried, darling.
"Don't Worry Darling" is slated for wide release Sept. 23. Watch a trailer for the film via YouTube below: