Perhaps the best news for Olivia Wilde – perhaps the only good news – is that her movie Don’t Worry Darling premiered at the Venice International Film Festival on Monday. The director no doubt hopes that this will bring an end to the series of scandals that have surrounded the film since day one. The movie has been in the headlines for many reasons. There has been controversy over why lead actress Florencia Pugh has avoided talking about the film, the fact that a pop star was called in to replace the lead actor, the rumors of inappropriate behavior on set and leaked audio recordings of Wilde. The story has so many twists and turns that the best way to understand it is to break it down into chapters, starting with the last one.
Because even on the day of its premiere, Don’t Worry Darling was not without scandal. Pugh was noticeably absent from the press conference ahead of the movie’s screening. The official reason was that she could not make it due to a scheduling conflict, but her absence has fueled rumors of a rift between her and Wilde.
Wilde, however, dismissed the claims. “Florence [Pugh] is a force and we are so grateful she is able to make it tonight [for the premiere] being in production on Dune [...] I can’t say enough how honored I am to have her as a lead,” said Wilde. “As for all the endless tabloid gossip and all the noise out there, I mean, the internet feeds itself,” Wilde added. “I don’t feel the need to contribute. It’s sufficiently well nourished.”
Asked why the film’s original male lead, Shia LaBeouf, was replaced by pop star Harry Styles, panel moderator Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan reportedly stepped in, saying: “I think this question has been answered when she talked about the internet.”
And it’s true that there is lots of online speculation about the casting change. On August 24, Wilde told Variety magazine that LaBeouf was fired from the film due to his behavior. “His process was not conducive to the ethos that I demand in my productions,” she said. “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.”
But LaBeouf denied these allegations. The actor contacted Variety and forwarded two emails he claimed to have sent to Wilde. “You and I both know the reasons for my exit. I quit your film because your actors and I couldn’t find time to rehearse,” he wrote in the messages.
LaBeouf also sent a video that Wilde allegedly sent him after he quit. In the recording, Wilde tells him she is “not ready to give up on this yet.” “You know, I think this might be a bit of a wake-up call for Miss Flo,” she added, in reference to Pugh.
After LaBeouf left the movie, Harry Styles was called in to replace him. Weeks later, Wilde announced another key decision: she and her husband, actor Jason Sudeikis, were ending their nine-year relationship. A few months later, Styles – a former member of the boy band One Direction and now a hit solo artist – was photographed holding hands with Wilde. The couple have appeared together so often, their relationship is practically official.
Last April, Wilde was once again in the news. While onstage presenting Don’t Worry Darling at a ticketed industry event, someone approached her to hand her an envelope. The director opened it and found she had been served custody papers for her two children with Sudeikis. Sudeikis said that he was not aware of his lawyer’s plans, but the filmmaker made it clear that she did not believe him.
Indeed, nothing as controversial happens in Don’t Worry Darling, at least in the beginning. The film tells the story of Alice and Jack, and their wonderful life in the idyllic community of Victory. Everyone believes they are living in paradise. That is, until Alice begins to ask herself the occasional question. And, little by little, the community does the one thing it is not allowed to do: speak up. And this leads to chaos.
Don’t Worry Darling can be seen as a metaphor for the oppression of the patriarchy and of the capitalist system. It is also a parable of sorts about female empowerment. Indeed, Wilde has joked that not a single man has an orgasm in her new film. She did however have to cut some sex scenes from the movie’s trailer that were deemed too risqué by the MPA ratings board. It was another blow to the movie, one of many. It remains to be seen if it will be hit by any more scandals.