While you were off on the beach or celebrating unions and work solidarity, an earth-shattering culture event occurred some thousands of miles away in the sinking city of Venice, Italy, where the year’s best film premiered on what they call “the Lido” over yonder. Olivia Wilde’s sophomore feature Don’t Worry Darling, which critics are calling “(mostly) well acted, and merely tedious” at best, and “disingenuous, easy, cheeky” at worst, has been dwarfed by its richly textured, multilayered, twisty, turny press tour that culminated in the cinematic spectacle of the year: the DWD Venice premiere.
All year long, we got teasers of the drama that would unfold — TikToks implying assistants signed NDAs to avoid talking about on-set drama, star Florence Pugh’s ghosting on her promotional obligations — which snowballed into a proper trailer of the action to come two weeks ago. Wilde vied for quickly rescinded brownie points for apparently firing Shia LaBeouf from the film. LaBeouf, in turn, says (and perhaps proved) that the director actually fought for him to stay in the movie before he wound up quitting. Wilde went on to explain incels to Maggie Gyllenhaal, plead the Fifth on her relationship with Harry Styles, and praise Florence Pugh, who remained silent and absent.
All of this built up a hefty amount of anticipation and eagerness for Monday’s premiere. To the disappointment of many, Pugh skipped the press conference in lieu of the red carpet. Though proceedings threatened to dissatisfy early on with Wilde’s tasteful comments on the film’s tabloid-rumored drama (“As for all the endless tabloid gossip and all the noise out there, I mean, the internet feeds itself,” the director said), the events soon picked up speed and strangeness.
Pay attention not to Wilde during the movie’s press conference, but rather to Harry Styles, her leading man and rumored boyfriend, who — despite having more than a decade of media and PR experience under his belt — could not for the life of him string together a coherent sentence about why the movie was worth seeing or interesting to make. “What I like about acting is I feel like I have no idea what I am doing,” he said with a little laugh, an innocuous comment by a guy who is always just saying stuff, but one that would fuel the apparent annoyance of his co-star Chris Pine, if you believe in the authentic expressive power of facial screenshots.
Images and videos of Pine’s apparent irritation or exhaustion or disinterest in his younger male co-star further complicated the narrative at hand, which had initially focused primarily on Wilde and Pugh. Meanwhile, as the press conference-burdened Pine daydreamed of his flip phone days past or a beautiful pair of linen pants, Pugh was very much in Venice — not on a flight to Venice from Budapest as had been announced — wearing a Gucci pajama set and hanging out with her grandmother.
Eventually, the second act began: the red carpet. The film’s stars arrived in a punctuated manner — as is the norm for events like these — with Wilde, Styles, and Pugh all showing up with some great deal of distance between them, presumably so they could avoid taking photos together. Wilde stunned in a greenish-yellow dress, Styles had his now-typical giant lapels, and Pugh milked the shit out of everything, in a black bodysuit ensconced in a sparkly train. Pugh’s arrival specifically had the crowd going nuts, and she posed for photographers, including her own co-stars Pine and Nick Kroll.
In photos and footage from the red carpet itself, there’s always a person between Styles and Wilde and Wilde and Pugh and Pugh and Styles, suggesting, perhaps, that none of these people like each other, even the two that are allegedly dating. Long-dormant disdain burst through, hinting at deeper tensions and resentments. In an abrupt and abbreviated conversation with Italian press, Pugh called the movie inspiring, in part because, “it’s very, very inspiring to see a woman push back and say ‘no’, and question everything,” adding, “It’s very exciting to see a woman do that on and off camera.”
The reporter asked the star when she has said no off-camera, to which she jokingly responded: “When do I say ‘no’? When someone says I can’t have cake.” Though the responsibility of Don’t Worry Darling is Wilde’s to claim, it was ultimately Pugh’s show — her cake, so to speak, upstaging and upending the order of events for the rest of the evening, not unlike a little movie about a woman who runs amok when she realizes the world in which she lives is not all that it seems.
The night came to a baffling, bombastic, and hilarious conclusion once the cast entered the cinema for the screening. First things first: did Harry Styles spit on Chris Pine? The answer is: probably not. But the other answer is: yeah, but wouldn’t it be so funny if he did? The clip in question, before the subject of spit superseded, was remarkable not for the spit (which is not there), but for Wilde and Styles’s complete avoidance of each other, despite her looking over at him with a sense of … admiration? Pride? Love? And for Pine’s subsequent rueful laughter, whether it’s at the phantom spit on his pants or his sunglasses in his lap — or most likely, the position he found himself in that evening.
As for Styles, though reviews of the film have been less than charitable towards his performance, he was nothing less than a baffling, perfect presence at the premiere, simultaneously hapless and affectless, fumbling through a contractual obligation and clearly not enjoying himself more than anyone else. As a pop star gifted the chance to shine on screen, it’s possible — between this and his less-than comments on gay sex regarding his other fall feature — he might have put himself in the movie dog house for the time being. So if this is the last we’re getting of him for a minute, I’m glad he went out with a bang, incoherent press statements and dinky suit and all.
The Don’t Worry Darling premiere had everything: intrigued, romance, scorn, jealousy, glamor, glitz, Italian media, a pop star, a weird guy, a horse girl, a simmering anger and resentment across at least three, but maybe four adults whose lives are irreparably changed by the order of events. As the evening drew to a close, the audience rising to applaud the film’s stars, Pugh honed in on MVP Nick Kroll, mostly ignoring the cast members and her director to her right, before nodding and saying, “Okay.” Never mind the Harry Styles and Nick Kroll smooch. Never mind the reviews of the film. Is Olivia Wilde going to director jail after this? That’s not my decision. Regardless, she and the cast of Don’t Worry Darling put on the most entertaining, lively, and pointed show of the year. Kudos one and all.