It’s official: Olivia Wilde‘s sophomore directorial feature, Don’t Worry Darling, has been a PR disaster. Scandals, alleged feuds, and a lukewarm critical reception at the Venice International Film Festival have seemingly soured the film before audiences have even gotten the chance to see it for themselves. As we approach the film’s theatrical release later this month, we’ll find out if the internet buzz is going to draw people in or repel them away.
A Thorough Recap Of The Drama
A Promising Start
We’re only a couple of weeks away from the theatrical premiere of Don’t Worry Darling, a psychological thriller directed by Olivia Wilde. There’s no understating just how excited the film world was for Wilde’s latest project. In 2019, Wilde struck gold with her directorial debut Booksmart. The comedy was praised from every aisle for its writing, direction, and undeniable hilarity. So, riding the wave of that massive success, Wilde’s next project inspired a bidding war between eighteen studios. New Line won out and with a formerly blacklisted script in hand, Wilde got to work on Don’t Worry Darling.
The first glimpses were promising. After facing a minor hiccup when Shia LaBeouf, the original leading man, was dropped from the project, the film garnered new buzz by casting Harry Styles in his place. The musician’s acting skills, while surely developing, hadn’t really been put to the test by taking on such an intense role.
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The film’s premise—a Black Mirror–Stepford Wives-esque thriller about a gaslit 1950s-era housewife and her eerie community—seemed off-the-wall enough to get people’s attention without risking alienating audiences. Not to mention that everyone knew Florence Pugh, who blew critics away with her portrayal of a similarly traumatized character in Midsommar, was more than up to the task.
So, what went wrong? It seemed like all the pieces were in place for a solid film. There was no ensuring that the movie itself would be a critical success, but with an all-star cast and skilled director at the helm, surely there was enough talent to keep a healthy amount of intrigue. Well, buckle up, because it gets weird from here.
Olivia Wilde Falls For Her Leading Man
Just when a workplace seems nice and peaceful, a new romance between coworkers can ruffle all kinds of feathers. All we can say is that traditional offices have an HR department for a reason. Only a few months after joining the production, Harry Styles and Olivia Wilde officially started dating. The matter drew even more attention since the announcement came only a couple of months after Wilde’s unexpected split from Jason Sudeikis, her partner of nine years and the father of her two children.
There’s no need to go down that rabbit hole, but we’ll just say that there are plenty of skeptics who have questioned the timeline of Styles and Wilde’s unexpected romance. Next, rumors began swirling that Florence Pugh was being paid less than Styles despite having a more central role in the film. Wilde denied the rumors, and they seemed to fizzle out. Nevertheless, people still had suspicions that Wilde and Pugh weren’t getting along.
Pugh and Wilde made headlines once again when the Little Women star failed to post about Don’t Worry Darling on Instagram the day its full-length trailer came out. Once again, representatives for Pugh denied the feud rumors, but they had little explanation for Pugh’s lack of enthusiasm about the film.
(Re)Enter Shia LeBeouf
Just when the waters seemed somewhat calm again, Shia LeBeouf shot back at Wilde for claiming she fired him from the film. Originally, Wilde claimed she fired LeBeouf—who’s been accused of assault in the past—for creating a “combative” environment, but LeBeouf hit back. According to the Transformers star, it was his scheduling conflicts that ultimately led to him leaving.
It would have been a “he said, she said” situation if LeBeouf hadn’t leaked communications between himself and Wilde. In a particularly troublesome leaked video, Wilde says she isn’t ready to give up on LeBeouf’s role in the film, and that the whole ordeal might be a “wake-up call for Miss Flo,” referring to Pugh. While Wilde insists the communications are being taken out of context, that didn’t slow down the rumor mill.
Then There Was Venice
There are dramatic threads hanging from the film that we could just keep on pulling at. When critics screened the film at the Venice International Film Festival, the resulting coverage just added more fuel to the meme fire.
For one, Pugh was absent during the film’s press junket in Venice. Wilde dismissed her absence by saying she was busy working on Dune 2. Of course, her co-star Timothée Chalamet made it to the event to promote his own film. Not to mention, a video surfaced of Pugh living her best life in Venice, cocktail in hand, while her co-stars were on the press junket, which set the internet ablaze.
Chris Pine, another huge driver behind the film’s star power, is a less dramatic player in this saga, but he’s part of it nonetheless. In a series of videos and photos from the event, Pine was seen spacing out and didn’t appear entirely there.
Plus, there’s a bizarre viral video of Harry Styles appearing to spit on Pine while taking his seat—although Pine’s rep has denied it.
The Critics Weigh In
This whole fire could have been put out if the film turned out to be a critical success. Unfortunately, critics found it unremarkable. Wilde’s direction seemed solid, and critics agree that the film was well shot. Pugh was, unsurprisingly, the standout, and her performance is being praised as one of the highlights of the film.
The screenplay was gently criticized, with many reviewers deeming the story tired and full of missed potential. Harry Styles apparently never found his footing in what’s being deemed a miscast role. Combining the regrettable reviews with one of the most hapless roll-outs in Hollywood history, it’s understandable that the film’s pending box-office success is being called into question.
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For so many people engaged in the drama surrounding the film, it’s unlikely that the movie itself will deliver the same level of intrigue. However, the gossip has probably done a better job of encouraging word of mouth than any promotional campaign ever could. As it stands, we’re awaiting a verdict on an age-old question in showbusiness: Is there really such thing as bad press?
We’ll certainly find out on September 23 when the movie finally hits theaters.