Even before anyone had seen the final trailer for Olivia Wilde’s second feature as director, the retro fantasy Don’t Worry Darling,Rumours circulated that Florence Pugh was one of the film’s stars and had grown to hate Wilde. Pugh has done minimal press for the film, so even if her silence can be read as an attempt to distance herself from the project, we don’t know what she truly thinks. The speculation is that she’s angry with Wilde for initially forcing her to work with the controversial actor Shia LaBeouf, who has admitted to a pattern of abuse in his personal life. According to which version you believe, LaBeouf left the film either voluntarily or was fired. Then, reportedly—though who can cite a solid source?—Pugh felt that the romance between Wilde and the actor she cast to replace LaBeouf, Harry Styles, had poisoned the on-set atmosphere. The full interview was completed. Don’t Worry Darling trailer dropped, in July, the world of social media lit up like a fire at a munitions factory, with movie pundits and even critics—who should know better—claiming that the film, now deemed a “troubled production,” looked terrible. The phrase “Worry, Darling,” not even that funny the first time, quickly wore out its welcome as a meme. On Sep. 5, Venice was the premiere of the film. The reviews were negative.
While gossip can be a problem with any movie during its production, it is rare for a film to attract so much speculation. A radioactive cloud hovers above it all: What if Wilde had been a man?
Men helm “troubled productions” all the time: see Marc Forster’s World War Z, James Cameron’s TitanicEverything by Terry Gilliam. And plenty of male directors—like Cameron, Steven Spielberg, and Stanley Kubrick—have become romantically involved with their stars. What is chaos, disorder or organization on the set? Women didn’t invent that. It’s true that Wilde isn’t always diplomatic: she claimed, in Interview magazine, that being in a lot of “really bad” movies had taught her what not to do as a director. What’s the point? Subconsciously or otherwise, we have a lot invested in the idea of the woman director as a “nice” person, even as we cling to our reverence for old-school tyrants, like Otto Preminger or John Ford, who ran roughshod over their actors to get the job done. No filmmaker has the right to be a jerk, but Wilde has spoken enough about her desire to foster an egalitarian environment on set to suggest she’s at least somewhat self-aware.
Wilde is a bit slick. Her responses and deflections feel polished to the extreme, and there’s a catty quality to the way, in a video leaked by LaBeouf, we see her referring to Pugh as “Miss Flo,” with a subtly mocking lilt in her voice. Even though she doesn’t know the details of what transpired on set, there are already a lot of negative comments about her online. These aspirations are enough to make people squirm. Wilde spoke with AP late in August The bidding battle that raged about Don’t Worry Darling in 2019, and why she chose New Line and Warner Bros. “We had several studios and streamers who wanted to make this film and I sat down with all of them and I said, ‘The path that I see leads us to Venice. Which one of you understands what kind of movie we’re making based on that dream?’” The “path to Venice” remark sure sounds lofty. If you shake a Hollywood palm tree, hundreds of confident male filmmakers will fall out. A man can be ambitious. So why, when a woman director speaks of bringing a film to a major festival, do we think she’s overreaching?
Public relations are not all the same.The challenge facing Don’t Worry DarlingThe charade can be directly traced to sexism. However, it raises questions about the role of women in public life. There could be a feud between the movie stars and rising directors (especially if they are also producers or actors in the film). All of us are capable of having a bit more curiosity. Even if there are too many things to do, some people still have a lot of curiosity. Don’t Worry Darling scandal—particularly those obsessed with footage of Styles allegedly, but absolutely not, spitting at costar Chris Pine at the Venice premiere—the movie’s backstory offers some novelty at least. It was a high-profile love story between an intelligent and successful 38-year old woman and a charming, puckish pop star 10 years her senior. This happens all the time.
Cinegoers that are armed for their revenge Don’t Worry DarlingIf you are terrible, it is possible to walk away feeling disappointed. This movie isn’t a success nor a masterpiece. The performances are good, particularly Pugh’s—if she was unhappy on the set, it doesn’t show in the film.
There’s also a simmering sex scene that focuses squarely on female pleasure, rather than the standard groping and thrusting that, bizarrely, has characterized most mainstream-movie sex scenes since the heyday of the erotic thriller in the 80s and ’90s. Sensual scenes of sex are rare these days in Hollywood films. Wilde could also have this against her. Sexually confident women are something we respect. Wilde however is an a mom!Unfortunately, one is in a very public child-custody dispute with Jason Sudeikis. There’s chatter that she and Styles may have begun their affair before she and Sudeikis had officially split. Today’s women want to look hot and confident, according to the Instagram method. It’s another matter entirely.
This kind of moralism can be found inThe scandal is as perilous today as it was 75 year ago. Ingrid Bergman’s affair with Roberto Rossellini, an Italian film director, was a scandalous one. It happened because they had a child together, Renato Roberto Rossellini. The relationship hurt Bergman’s career far more than it affected Rossellini. “The best thing for you to do would be to take an overdose of sleeping pills. That would please Robby and everyone,” wrote one fan in 1950, feeling betrayed that the real-life Bergman didn’t meet his standards of what a woman should be. While we may think the internet made us less sane, it is not true. The seeds are there.
As for Wilde, she’s finding out what it’s like to be a woman in Hollywood who knows what she wants and carves a path to get it. She’s also finding out how many people believe they have some say over what goes on in her bedroom. Wilde is either a conniving shrew or a canny orchestrator of the kind of publicity money can’t buy. Or maybe, possibly, she’s just a director who wanted to make a movie.
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