Few could have imagined the never-ending cascade of controversies that have piled up atop Don’t Worry Darling, Olivia Wilde’s directorial follow-up to the 2019 teen comedy Booksmart. Since the film’s cast was first announced in 2020, actors have joined and left the project, Wilde has started dating one of its leads (who happens to be the most famous pop star in the world) and wound up entangled in a feud with the other, and its premiere at the Venice Film Festival turned into a gossip event for the ages.
Initially, it seemed like celebrity gossip columnists were making a mountain out of a molehill with this story: Tabloids have always loved to pit one woman against another, and rumors that Olivia Wilde and star Florence Pugh couldn’t stand each weren’t based on much. But soon, evidence mounted. Was there a feud? Had Wilde’s relationship with star Harry Styles caused problems on set? What happened to original cast member Shia LaBeouf? And what on earth did Chris Pine think of everything?
Below, a comprehensive explainer of every component of the Don’t Worry Darling controversy.
Didn’t this all start when Olivia Wilde started dating Harry Styles?
In a word, yes, although that controversy seems distant and quaint now. The couple appear to have embarked on an affair during production; Wilde was still married to her ex-partner Jason Sudeikis when filming began in October 2020, and according to a report in Page Six, Sudeikis and their young children visited Wilde on set. An anonymous source quoted in Page Six claimed that “[Florence] seeing Olivia and Harry all over each other on set did not go down well as Olivia was still with Jason.” Was this when the tension between Wilde and Pugh first arose? On the other hand, Page Six is infamously unreliable, and this quote came from an anonymous source. But on the other other hand, after the movie wrapped, Wilde and Sudeikis broke up, and Wilde and Styles were later seen together at the wedding of Styles’ friend. So whether or not Pugh cared about the affair, they certainly do seem to have embarked on one.
Earlier this year, a process server representing Sudeikis served Wilde custody papers while she was onstage at CinemaCon presenting footage from Don’t Worry Darling. In a recent Variety profile, she implicitly criticized Sudeikis, whom she did not name, for serving her with papers at her “workplace. … In any other workplace, it would be seen as an attack. … To try to sabotage [the presentation] was really vicious. But I had a job to do; I’m not easily distracted. But, you know, sadly, it was not something that was entirely surprising to me. I mean, there’s a reason I left that relationship.” (Sudeikis claimed not to have known Wilde would be served while on stage.)
Wilde may feel particularly sensitive about her separation, and her relationship with Styles, because many of Styles’ most dedicated fans have attacked and harassed her online. Vice reports that, in at least one case, a Styles fan spread a vicious QAnon conspiracy theory that Wilde is a pedophile.
But how did anyone even know that there was a feud before the film’s Venice premiere?
For that, tabloids relied primarily on Instagram. The Wrap reported that Pugh failed to share a recent trailer for Don’t Worry Darling, instead posting an image of a poster for Oppenheimer, her upcoming film with Christopher Nolan; Page Six went a step further and pointed out that Pugh had failed to like Wilde’s post of the trailer — and noted that on a recent red carpet Pugh had praised Styles, the film’s hair and makeup people, and not her director. In an interview with Harper’s Bazaar, meanwhile, Pugh gushed about the efforts made by the crew and on-set nurses to make the set Covid-safe, rather than mentioning Wilde: “If I shout about one thing,” she told the magazine, “it’s that these people made that movie happen. They came to work every day on time and fully respected the process.”
As speculation about a potential rift between Pugh and Wilde grew, the two women chose distinctly… different approaches to discussing the film’s sex scenes, which feature prominently in the movie’s advertising. Wilde was eager to talk about her movie’s sex scenes in her Variety profile. “Men don’t come in this film,” she announces to her interviewer. “Only women here!” (Congratulations?) She goes on, “It’s all about immediacy and extreme passion for one another. The impractical nature of their sex speaks to their ferocious desire for one another. I think it’s integral to the story itself and how the audience is meant to connect to them. My early conversations with the cast were all about how the audience has to buy into the fantasy.”
In her Harper’s Bazaar interview, meanwhile, Pugh seemed annoyed that the movie was being sold based on this component: “When it’s reduced to your sex scenes, or to watch the most famous man in the world go down on someone, it’s not why we do it. It’s not why I’m in this industry. Obviously, the nature of hiring the most famous pop star in the world, you’re going to have conversations like that. That’s just not what I’m going to be discussing because [this movie is] bigger and better than that.” Apparently, Wilde didn’t get that memo.
Rumors also circulated that Pugh had been paid much less than Styles for the film. Disparate salary figures were reported on the unreliable website Showbiz Galore, without any evidence to back them up, and Wilde firmly shut down the rumors when speaking to Variety. But these baseless rumors only increased speculation that there was a rift between Pugh and Wilde.
But wait — what does Shia LaBeouf have to do with all this?
Pugh and Wilde certainly seem to have had a disagreement related to Shia LaBeouf, who was originally hired to play Harry Styles’ role. LaBeouf left the film in August 2020, five months before singer FKA Twigs sued him for sexual battery and emotional abuse. In her recent Variety profile, Wilde explains that she fired LaBeouf in order to preserve the safety and collegial atmosphere of her set: “He has a process that, in some ways, seems to require a combative energy, and I don’t personally believe that is conducive to the best performances. I believe that creating a safe, trusting environment is the best way to get people to do their best work. Ultimately, my responsibility is to the production and to the cast to protect them. That was my job. … Particularly with a movie like this, I knew that I was going to be asking Florence to be in very vulnerable situations, and my priority was making her feel safe and making her feel supported.”
Two days after this story ran, however, LaBeouf emailed Variety informing them that he had not, in fact, been fired, but had instead quit the production, and provided them with a video and texts backing up his claim. In the video message, which Wilde sent to LaBeouf from her phone while driving, she urges him to come back to the project: “I feel like I’m not ready to give up on this yet, and I, too, am heartbroken and I want to figure this out. You know, I think this might be a bit of a wake-up call for Miss Flo, and I want to know if you’re open to giving this a shot with me, with us. If she really commits, if she really puts her mind and heart into it at this point and if you guys can make peace — and I respect your point of view, I respect hers — but if you guys can do it, what do you think? Is there hope? Will you let me know?”
But there’s much, much more.
Even the most salaciously minded gossip-mongers couldn’t have anticipated that the film’s press conference and premiere at the Venice Film Festival on Sept. 5 would turn into one of the gossip events of the century. At Venice, talent are typically expected to participate in a press conference, a photo call, and a red carpet for the film they’re promoting. Before the festival, though, Pugh’s camp announced that she wouldn’t be able to make the press conference or photo call due to the fact that she was busy shooting the sequel to Dune in Hungary. This conflict didn’t prevent Timothée Chalamet from promoting his Venice title, Bones and All, for several days on the Lido. Nor did it stop Pugh from arriving in Venice just as the press conference was getting started, looking radiant in a chic purple high-fashion pajama set and brandishing an aperol spritz.
While Pugh was having a ball outside, things were going less well inside the press conference. Wilde praised Pugh, calling her “a force,” and expressing her gratitude that Pugh would appear on the red carpet. But when a journalist from The Hollywood Reporter attempted to ask about Shia LaBeouf’s role in the film, the moderator replied, “I think this question has been answered,” and moved onto the next question.
Possibly the only person at the press conference enjoying himself less than Wilde was Chris Pine, who has a supporting role in the film. Photos and videos rapidly began circulating on Twitter of the actor looking as though he wished he were literally anywhere else.
Video of the event isn’t any better; if anything, it conveys even more strongly how disconnected Pine was from the proceedings. As Harry Styles, seated next to Pine, pontificated, “My favorite thing about the movie is it feels like… a movie…” Pine stared vacantly in front of him. The moment quickly became meme fodder.
But the day had only just begun for Pine, who, in an unexpected twist, became the center of Monday’s drama. After the press conference, he could be found on the red carpet enthusiastically taking photos of Pugh, whose stylist Rebecca Corbin-Murray dressed her in a carpet-stealing sheer gown covered in sequins by Valentino Couture. (Corbin-Murray also posted photos of Pugh in the outfit on Instagram with the caption “Miss Flo,” a not-so-subtle reference to Wilde’s earlier comments to LaBeouf.) In red carpet photos, Pugh, Wilde, and Styles were all carefully kept separate on the red carpet.
At the screening, though, Pine was seated between Wilde and Styles, and when Styles arrived to sit next to him… something happened.
Could Harry Styles, the most famous pop star in the universe, really have spat on Chris Pine… on camera? The idea seemed crazy, and yet the slowed-down footage was compelling. This 11 seconds of film rapidly became the most analyzed piece of video on Twitter in recent memory — a Zapruder film for 2022. Did Styles purse his lips enough to spit? Is any spit actually visible? If he didn’t spit, why did Pine make that face? What beef could Styles possibly have with Pine? What was going on?
Another Twitter user later posted a supplemental video that showed Pine finding his sunglasses in his lap, which seemed to debunk the rapidly circulating theories about Styles spitting on him. This explanation makes a lot more sense, but is less fun. (Also, Pine’s rep denied that any spit was involved in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter. “This is a ridiculous story, a complete fabrication and the result of an odd online illusion that is clearly deceiving and allows for foolish speculation,” the statement read. “Just to be clear, Harry Styles did NOT spit on Chris Pine. There is nothing but respect between these two men and any suggestion otherwise is a blatant attempt to create drama that simply does not exist.”)
Whether or not there was any spit involved, Pine seemingly didn’t want anything else to do with the movie: As soon as the lights dimmed, he put on his sunglasses.
So, is the movie any good?
Based on reviews from Venice, Don’t Worry Darling has a subpar 48 rating on Metacritic, and IndieWire writes that although “It looks good, […] it has nothing to say that hasn’t already been said before, and better, by other films.” All in all, it sure seems like this subpar movie will be remembered primarily for the chaos it unleashed — and maybe that’s for the best.
Pugh, at least, seems done with the movie. At the film’s premiere at Venice, she smiled warmly at the crowd and embraced several of her cast members, including Nick Kroll, but pointedly ignored Olivia Wilde, who was seated further down the row. After three minutes of applause at the film’s end, she exited the theater. Now, she won’t be at the film’s New York premiere, and will instead be returning to Hungary to continue filming the sequel to Dune. But at least she — and the rest of us — will always memories of the film’s premiere in Venice, and the dazzling controversies she helped spark.