When Don’t Worry Darling began filming in 2020, it was just a movie — albeit one directed and written by Olivia Wilde, whose directorial debut, 2019’s Booksmart, had gotten a lot of acclaim, and starring two hot people, pop king Harry Styles and acting darling Florence Pugh. Stans of both stars gushed over the on-set photos, and rumors of a romance between Wilde and Styles bloomed. Fast-forward to two years later, and the drama surrounding the movie has satiated our appetites for raw, low-stakes celebrity chaos in a way we rarely see.
The film, a psychological thriller about how things aren’t what they seem in domestic paradise, premiered this week at the Venice International Film Festival with a fresh batch of drama involving spritzes, sunglasses, and spit.
Here’s a quick recap:
You have Pugh, the Oscar-nominated fresh-off-a-breakup star whom the internet has been rooting for, whose performance in the 2019 horror film Midsommar proved she’s extremely GIFable. (She is also cool enough to pull off a septum piercing.) Pugh hasn’t posted much in support of Don’t Worry Darling, leading people to assume something went down on set.
Wilde has faced criticism over the hypersexual promotion of her new movie and got caught fibbing about firing Shia LaBeouf from the movie. (Let’s not forget how she was served custody papers onstage in front of thousands of industry executives following her split with Jason Sudeikis and faced misogynistic abuse from Styles’s fans for dating him.)
Then there’s Styles, who is taking a break from a world tour to promote the movie. No one’s really sure if he’s good at acting or not.
In an interview with Variety published days before Venice, Wilde said she fired LaBeouf from the role later filled by Styles for poor behavior and said she had done so to protect Pugh. LaBeouf then provided video evidence to Variety that showed Wilde asking him to stay, saying the now infamous line, “I think this might be a bit of a wake-up call for Miss Flo.” With the proof of Wilde’s inconsistency, people took this as the first concrete evidence that Pugh might have clashed with Wilde on set.
Pugh’s reps then announced Miss Flo would be present at the movie’s premiere, but not the press conference. The announcement cited “scheduling conflicts” with Dune: Part Two, but Dune star Timothée Chalamet was also frolicking through his own Venice press tour earlier this week, leading people to theorize Pugh was opting out to avoid drama.
This might have remained heady but unsubstantiated speculation. But when the big day finally arrived, stylist Rebecca Corbin-Murray shared a video of Pugh strutting through Venice, Aperol spritz in hand, rather than attending the press conference, fuelling speculation that she wasn’t busy with Dune after all. Corbin-Murray later shared a photo of Pugh dolled up for the premiere with the caption “Miss Flo.” Not to be outdone, Wilde’s stylist also vague-posted about there being “more to the story.”
Given all of the back-and-forth, many might not have realized that Chris Pine was also in Don’t Worry Darling. He had avoided being pulled into the drama; he’s one of the least controversial people named Chris in Hollywood — the “Diane Keaton of Brad Pitts,” as one tweet said. In fact, he brought some benign quirkiness to the press cycle: The man brought a disposable camera to the red carpet, which he used to take photos of Pugh. (People used the much-memed moment as an opportunity to remind everyone that Pine has talked about preferring flip phones to smartphones.)
But before long, Pine’s every action was also scrutinized. Fans theorized that he was dissociating in an interview where Styles said his favorite thing about the movie was that it “feels like a movie.” His blank expression could have been totally unrelated to what was happening around him, but once again, memes multiplied, arguing that no one has seemed that depressed since Ben Affleck was juggling Amazon packages, Dunkin’ orders, and cigarettes in 2020.
At the premiere, Pine and costar Gemma Chan (who has managed to stay out of the fray) sat between Wilde, Pugh, and Styles; people joked that they were put there as human shields. Pine put sunglasses on; someone made a joke about him taking a nap. Pugh apparently avoided eye contact with Wilde during the movie’s four-minute standing ovation and departed at minute three. Styles shared a kiss with Nick Kroll, who is also apparently in this movie, sparking another round of queerbaiting discourse.
But the pièce de résistance came at the end of the day on Monday. Internet sleuths insisted that they had identified a moment where Styles spat on Pine after the Venice screening ended. Styles has since denied this, and Pine called it a “blatant attempt to create drama,” but there’s nothing like breaking down a celebrity interaction frame by frame.
Gossip is inevitable, and Don’t Worry Darling is not the first movie to be beleaguered by a perfect storm of preexisting rumors, celebrity relationships, ever-present cameras, and social media. But it is the first in a long time to have been put through such a public gauntlet of attention. Generally, A-listers know how to be in the spotlight without revealing very much; they’re media trained and buttoned up. This conflict feels exhilarating to watch precisely because it is so rare to see celebrities actually feuding. Whether the rumors are true or not is beside the point.
What makes the drama even more compelling is that it feels harmless to follow as a fan. What criticism these extremely powerful people are facing — such as whether a movie star skipped a press conference to sip a spritz, or whether a former member of One Direction spat on the guy from Princess Diaries 2 — removes them from an imagined pedestal of perfection they shouldn’t have been on anyway. In contrast with putrid #MeToo revelations and court cases that fly in the face of common sense, this is Hollywood spectacle at its most deliciously bizarre. It hinges on issues we can all relate to — an authority figure we disagree with, a delightfully unpredictable coworker, a hot guy everyone’s keeping track of — but is exacerbated by fancy dresses next to Venetian canals with the paparazzi snapping. This kind of drama is Old Hollywood.
The circus is also not likely to end any time soon. The movie isn’t out until Sept. 23. Wilde and Styles are confidently delivering unforced errors in interviews. Pugh is just posting strategically. Pine is holding back frustrated screams.
To top it all off, the movie is literally called Don’t Worry Darling, when worrying, darling, is probably what most of the people involved are doing. But they shouldn’t be concerned about the box office, because nothing makes me want to see a movie with a 39% score on Rotten Tomatoes more than the implication that everyone on set hated each other.
The thought that beautiful, rich people are facing so much interpersonal drama that they can’t keep it cordial for a promotional cycle is so powerful to me. May the Don’t Worry Darling controversy section on Wikipedia go down in history.