The ‘Don’t Worry Darling’ controversy

‘Spitcident’ is latest in a long list of dramas that have surrounded the film

The cast of Don’t Worry Darling pose with director Olivia Wilde on the red carpet in Venice
It’s not Olivia Wilde’s directing that has everyone talking about ‘Don’t Worry Darling’
(Image credit: Kate Green/Getty Images)

Olivia Wilde’s eagerly awaited film Don’t Worry Darling hasn’t particularly wowed the critics – but it’s not the middling reviews that has got the internet talking.

The film, which will be released on 23 September, “has been plagued with drama and controversy pretty much since Day 1”, said Mashable’s culture reporter Tim Marcin.

The production turned into “a meme factory” at the Venice Film Festival at the weekend, but much of the furore began before the film had even wrapped.

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Lights, camera, drama

“Much of the drama comes back to director Olivia Wilde,” said Vox’s senior culture reporter Alex Abad-Santos. After the success of Wilde’s directorial debut Booksmart, her second film has been highly anticipated, but her personal relationships seem to have somewhat overshadowed her professional performance on the project.

Wilde and her long-term partner Jason Sudeikis separated during the film’s production, and she began dating Don’t Worry Darling’s male lead, Harry Styles. It was rumoured that the pair had had an affair, and a source told Page Six that this “did not go down well” on set. Hollywood has been “buzzing” with speculation that Florence Pugh, the film’s female lead, and Wilde fell out as a result.

The director has been “effusive about Pugh”, who “has not been promoting this movie or returning Wilde’s warmth”, said Vox’s Abad-Santos. In July, internet “sleuths” noted that Pugh hadn’t reacted to Wilde’s Instagram post of the Don’t Worry Darling trailer, or a separate post in which Wilde said that working with the Midsommar star was “such a f–king thrill”, said Page Six.

“Officially”, Pugh is busy shooting Dune: Part Two, and the scheduling conflict is why she hasn’t been promoting Wilde’s film, said Vox.

But the pair’s seemingly “icy” relationship wasn’t the only drama to make headlines in the last 12 months, said Mashable’s Marcin.

There were rumours of a pay gap between female and male stars that “Wilde shut down”; the director telling Variety that she fired Shia LaBeouf from the film because “his process was not conducive to the ethos I demand in my productions” and that he had a “combative energy”; and Wilde being served child custody documentation by lawyers acting for Sudeikis while on stage promoting Don’t Worry Darling at the CinemaCon conference in April.

What happened in Venice…

“Now that I’ve experienced the Don’t Worry Darling press tour, I wish I could go back in time and live in a world where I didn’t,” said Vox’s Abad-Santos. The “assumed professional fracture” between Wilde and Pugh put the Don’t Worry Darling cast’s actions “under a microscope” at the Venice Film Festival – but it was speculation over the relationship between Chris Pine and Harry Styles that went viral.

During a press junket with the two actors, Pine listened blankly as Styles responded to a question asking what he liked about the film by saying that it “feels like a movie”. Of Pine, Vox’s Abad-Santos noted that “many construed” the “vacancy in his eyes to mean that his spirit was escaping his body, or that he was experiencing some kind of active dissociation”.

Then there was the alleged spit. Online sleuths” have slowed down and analysed a video where Styles “maybe, possibly hocks a loogie” on Pine, said Mashable’s Marcin. Pine’s team gave a “full-throated denial” after the “spitcident” went viral. A spokesperson told Variety that the “ridiculous” story was “a complete fabrication and the result of an odd online illusion that is clearly deceiving and allows for foolish speculation”.

During a Madison Square Garden concert yesterday, Styles “took a moment” to address the rumours, noted Variety. The star “jokingly” told fans: “It’s wonderful, wonderful, wonderful to be back in New York. I just popped very quickly to Venice to spit on Chris Pine. But fret not, we’re back!”

Meanwhile, Pugh missed the film’s press conference, later flying in from filming Dune in Hungary to Don’t Worry Darling’s Venice premiere, where she “appeared to consciously avoid eye contact with Wilde”, said The Guardian. However, she clapped for Wilde during the film’s “five-minute standing ovation”, which Metro said the “filmmaker noticed and reciprocated”.

“At this point, the line between media scrutiny, actual drama and project discord is indistinguishable,” said Vox’s Abad-Santos. “Good or bad”, Don’t Worry Darling “will be a crystallised reminder of the drama surrounding it, trapped forever in amber”.

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Julia O'Driscoll is the engagement editor. She covers UK and world news, as well as writing lifestyle and travel features. She regularly appears on “The Week Unwrapped” podcast, and hosted The Week's short-form documentary podcast, “The Overview”. Julia was previously the content and social media editor at sustainability consultancy Eco-Age, where she interviewed prominent voices in sustainable fashion and climate movements. She has a master's in liberal arts from Bristol University, and spent a year studying at Charles University in Prague.