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Don't Worry Darling: Engulfed in Controversy (?)

*Olivia Wilde, Chris Pine, Harry Styles, Gemma Chan and Florence Pugh attend the 79th Venice International Film Festival (Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)

The 2022 psychological thriller Don’t Worry Darling has been engulfed in scandal nearly since its inception. Since the film was released in mid-September, many are beginning to pose the question- was it all worth it?

The film is set in the 1950’s, focusing on the lives of Alice and Jack, a married couple living in the utopian suburb of Victory, California. The plot follows Alice as she begins to question the secrets of her husband’s life and the true goals of Victory.

The drama all goes back to the movie’s director, Olivia Wilde. Although not her directorial debut, Wilde lauded the film in press releases as a feminist piece, generating increased media attention and focus on Wilde herself.

Wilde had been somewhat of a controversial figure prior to the announcement of Don’t Worry Darling. A very public split from her fiancé of seven years, comedian Jason Sudeikis, led to scrutiny over her new relationship with popular musician Harry Styles. Styles features as Jack, the male lead of the film, which only complicates the personal entanglement. This culminated in Wilde being served custody papers in the middle of a promotional event for the movie in Las Vegas. This led to a media spiral of gossip and speculation, which has loomed over the film so significantly, some have pointed out that it almost outpaces interest in the movie itself. Initially it was pointed out that female lead Florence Pugh had neglected to post much about the film, which inspired conjecture about the relationship between Wilde and Styles on set. In all posts relating to Darling, Pugh thanks the crew but neglects to mention Wilde.

In an interview with Variety, Wilde explained that Shia LaBeouf had initially been cast in the role before being ousted over abuse claims. However, this was later disputed by LaBeouf who produced video and photo evidence that he had left the project of his own volition, and that Wilde had actually begged him to return. In the now viral video, Wilde refers to Pugh as “Miss Flo”, a condescension which implies Wilde didn’t believe the abuse claims and was agitated at Pugh’s resistance to LaBeouf’s casting.

The peak of the drama came with a news conference at the Venice Film Festival. Tensions seemed visible between the actors who were present; Florence Pugh was not in attendance. Clips of the conference were uploaded and analyzed, with some asserting that Styles spits on co-star Chris Pine.

Early promotional videos for the film were also not viewed kindly- Harry Styles’ performance was heavily critiqued and expectations going into the release were very low.

The film was released on September 23 of this year to poor audience and critical reviews. It currently holds an IMDb score of 6.3/10 and a Rotten Tomatoes score of 39%. Due to the heavy feminist messaging, some have argued that these scores are unfair- only made due to misogyny and the drama surrounding Olivia Wilde. Criticisms mainly concern the movie’s lack of focus, with a studio executive referring to it as “schizophrenic”.

Ultimately, the cast has denied most of the drama rumors. Nick Kroll even joked in an interview with People magazine that he had orchestrated all the drama, directing Styles to spit on Pine in the infamous clip. Given the critical reception, however, it's almost more interesting to focus on the interpersonal relationships of the movie’s genesis than its own plot.

Hollywood has always had tumultuous productions, and Darling is no different. In the long run, Wilde’s career might not be heavily impacted, but speculation continues over whether or not the movie has been hindered by the rumors. While the lukewarm reception would certainly suggest some impediment, this could also be chalked up to legitimate flaws in the screenwriting or directing. As Susan Kamyab from Irving Television puts it, “It’s not the best film of the year, but you can have fun with it.”

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