We live in a time where all kinds of behavior once was not considered scandalous is now scandalous. Still, the “calling people out” mentality can extend to less serious and sometimes even trivial things. That was the drama of “Don’t Worry Darling” – and by drama I don’t mean the story of a Stepford housewife, played by Florence Pugh, who wakes up to discover the candy-colored 1950s dream world she lived in. in is a carefully constructed nightmare. That drama, as I wrote in my review, is just okay; it starts out tempting and then loses steam. But the offscreen drama? That’s a gift of gossip that keeps on giving. (If you want to know what Neil Postman meant by the title of his 1985 book ‘Amusing Ourselves to Death’, look no further than Spitgate.)
Part of the addictive fun of “Don’t Worry Darling: The Offscreen Diaries” is that it’s been a juicy celebrity tabloid press where no one has really done anything wrong. (You can have your easy Twitter morals and eat it too.) The bits of the saga, if you look at them one by one, aren’t complicated or even very outrageous. In the midst of making her second feature, Olivia Wilde, a powerful film director, began a romantic relationship with her lead actor, Harry Styles, who happens to be the most coveted pop star in the world. (Important fact to keep in mind: A movie director having a relationship with his or her lead actor has never happened before in the history of movies.)
There’s also the issue of who the protagonist would originally be. Shia LaBeouf, who was first cast in the role, was replaced by Styles – but how and why that happened remains a matter of dispute. Wilde claims it was her decision to let LaBeouf go; as she reiterated this week in “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” the interpersonal thespic chemistry between LaBeouf and Florence Pugh, who plays the heroine, didn’t work. However, LaBeouf claims it was his decision to leave the film. A leaked phone conversation in which Wilde begged LaBeouf to stay might seem to support his version and contradict hers — but then it all depends on when that conversation happened. Wilde could have had LaBeouf in the part…until she didn’t. (Second important fact to note: A director who changes his mind in this way has never been seen before in the history of movies.)
Of course, none of that would have made much of an impression had it not been for the scandal that set the fuse: Florence Pugh has largely stopped promoting ‘Don’t Worry Darling’. On Friday, the day the film opened, the actress finally released a PR mash note on Instagram, but until then, Pugh has ghosted the film in her social media communiqués. When ‘Don’t Worry Darling’ bowed at the Venice Film Festival three weeks ago, media outlets worldwide came together to draw attention to the fact that she showed up for the red carpet premiere, but the film’s press conference did not attend. That was really unusual – at least in a universe where publishing a movie has become almost as important as acting in it.
Florence Pugh, it’s clear, was/has been steamed at Olivia Wilde’s. She didn’t even want to look at her when the film was introduced in Venice. But why? If you had just scanned the headlines and soaked up the highly speculative coverage of the “Don’t worry, honey” issues, you could easily think that what happened off-screen amounted to some sort of high school tiff. One rumor that drove the story is that Pugh was mad at Wilde for missing out on set with Harry for a long time. But why would she be so furious about that? You can imagine how this might “read” for a 14-year-old Harry Styles fan (or the 14-year-old Harry Styles fan in many of us). According to my sources, the feud between Wilde and Pugh, which sounds like it could be a one-way feud, has more to do with what happened to LaBeouf — the difficulties that situation presented, how they were resolved, and the competing spin zones, even expanded. to a conflict over what the rehearsal schedule would be. That said, a lot of people who work on movies together end up hating each other, and they’re still able to cover up their dislikes for the sake of the movie.
The fact that Wilde is helping pave a path for female directors and seeing her film score with this perfect storm of bad juju is a shame. Has the fact that she is a woman boosted the media’s response to reporting the scandal? I’d say, in ways you can’t prove, it undoubtedly is. But the fact that the film is now on track to earn $21 million in its opening weekend should make up for all that nicely. Whatever issues came up in Shia LaBeouf’s casting, the way they were resolved turned out to be the greatest gift to Olivia Wilde’s career. Instead of LaBeouf, she got Harry Styles, who probably played a major role in transforming her second feature into a (medium-sized) hit.
If you’re wondering if all this drama has put people off or if it’s now attracting people to ‘Don’t worry, honey’ then the answer should be obvious. Of course it’s a draw. Seeing the film has become a de facto means of moving the offscreen story further. Let’s look for clues! Many observers have suggested that there is no such thing as bad publicity; in fact there is such a thing. But there may be no press conference that publicizes a movie as forcefully as a rising star who refuses to appear at a press conference, all because of her… grudge? Pride? Or a hidden motivation obscurely but persistently linked to the presence of the world’s reigning pop star? Go ahead – try to fill in the blanks. And if you want to imagine that what is happening on screen completes the meaning of what is happening off screen, then above all, surrender to the fantasy. It’s part of what’s been selling movies for 100 years.