The insane, absurd publicity drama around ‘Don’t Worry Darling,’ a middling movie with an A-list cast
On the fateful day of April 24th, 2020, the world first learned about a little film called Don’t Worry Darling. At that time, everything sounded great. The film promised an all-star cast, anchored by critical darling and fan favorite Florence Pugh. While plot details were scarce, the story seemed like a twisty thriller with a feminist spin. Plus, Olivia Wilde–who wowed audiences in 2019 with her high-school comedy, Booksmart–was set to direct.
Almost two-and-a-half years later, it’s easier to classify Don’t Worry Darling as a manifestation of chaos rather than a film. It’s one thing to claim that certain parts of a film’s development are cursed. In this case, everything about Wilde’s film–from its on-set drama to its buzzy Venice premiere gone wrong–is under a hex. The list of trainwrecks is so lengthy that, frankly, it’s easy to forget about many completely baffling twists.
Until recently, the sources of Don’t Worry Darling’s issues weren’t actions, but their effects. For example, the drama didn’t commence when original lead actor Shia LaBeouf parted ways with the film. It arrived when hot pop star Harry Styles replaced him. Similarly, Olivia Wilde and Jason Sudekis splitting up in November 2020 were quickly eclipsed by the rumors, and eventual confirmation, that she and Styles were dating.
It’s important to note that, at this time, the film, Wilde, and Styles were all consistently trending on Twitter. The difference: back then, only Harry Styles fans, most of whom were angry about his and Wilde’s relationship, authored the tweets.
From this point onwards, the drama around Don’t Worry Darling gets tricky. There are certain moments–such as Olivia Wilde being served custody papers mid-stage at CinemaCon in April, or more details about Wilde’s and Styles’ relationship releasing–that, while important, are minor in the film’s trajectory into chaos. The main issue, though, the one that continues to have the most effects today, suggests that Olivia Wilde and Florence Pugh had a falling out on set, an action caused by a variety of factors.
Here’s the thing, though. No one knows if this is true. There have been a lot of tabloid reports, TikToks, and tweets about the subject. But those are just rumors. Regardless, as more and more allegations about trouble between Wilde and Pugh enter the public conversation, it feels increasingly probable that there is some validity in these claims. How factual they are, though, is anyone’s guess.
Lately, Don’t Worry Darling’s press tour has taken a “one step forward, two steps back” approach. Every time Wilde and company thought they were ahead, leaked videos or insider reports ensured that was not the case. Case in point, Olivia Wilde explaining why she fired LaBeouf was instantly countered by both LaBeouf explaining that he quit the film as well as a leaked video of Wilde begging LaBeouf to return to the set, allegedly bad-mouthing Pugh in the process. Similarly, a variety of sources praising Styles’ acting and “movie star potential” were instantly overshadowed by a heavily mocked 19-second clip of his, let’s say, subpar acting skills.
All of this brewing tension culminated at the film’s premiere at the Venice Film Festival last week. The event felt like a physical exhibition of all the rumors, drama and strained energy between a cast who looked very disconnected with one another. Key highlights: Styles allegedly spitting on co-star Chris Pine, Pine dissociating while Styles talks about how his favorite part of the movie is that it “feels like a movie,” or Pugh having the time of her life with an Aperol Spritz in hand instead of being at the film’s press conference. Given the number of things that went wrong and the number of awkward moments trending on Twitter, it’s almost easy to forget that the film also played that night.
Critics didn’t forget, though. The film opened to generally negative feedback, only earning a 4-minute standing ovationat a festival that prides itself on intensely prolonged rounds of applause. It currently boasts a measly 43% Rotten Tomatoes Score, and a not-much-better Metacritic score of 48.
Given the facts, it’s difficult to comprehend why there’s this much drama around a film that critics are calling mediocre at best.
Don’t Worry Darling’s issues mostly prove how the “viral-ization” of a film can eventually lead to its demise. From the beginning of the film’s production, it has always felt like a product conceived solely to please the internet. When Styles boarded the project, this feeling only intensified. Suddenly, every moment, whether big or small, promptly found itself at the top of the Twitter trends list.
The uncontrollably bad press tour simultaneously cultivated this chaos and raised its stakes. As Wilde and company tried to sidestep addressing the on-set drama, people just came up with more rumors. At the same time, the way the cast continually behaved not only fulfilled these theories, but also created new ones. At the end of the day, the world was going to judge, analyze, and scrutinize every little action at the Venice premiere. The only reason the entire world was talking about it for days afterward was because the cast’s behavior was completely absurd.
Here’s the other issue: besides Pugh, no one else seems to be having a good time with the drama. In a situation like this, retaining some sense of diplomacy makes sense. After all, there’s no clear reason not to. It isn’t the public’s place to know everything that happened on the studio lot. But, it was the cast’s decision to ignore the drama, to not even address a sliver of what happened on set, which gives the space for more rumors to grow.
While the Don’t Worry Darling drama does have its share of laughable moments, all of them contain a melancholic element as well. Regardless of their past drama, it’s sad to watch a cast beaten down by a couple of months, that, we venture to guess, the majority of them would like to forget about. Regardless of if the movie is bad or not, it’s a little disappointing that the sole reason it will probably be the first movie to crack a 20-million-dollar opening weekend in almost two months is because of its off-screen drama.
Don’t Worry Darling’s demise brings up important points about the difficulty of marketing an original, mid-budget film in the age of social media surveillance. The days have long passed where “what happens on set, stays on set,” and only the tabloids leak information. When eyes are everywhere, everything–from the tiniest piece of spit to tumultuous relationships–is at risk.