Nothing surrounding Don’t Worry Darling sounds good at all. In fact, every new piece of information that comes out about Olivia Wilde’s chronically gossip-embroiled sophomore film ranges from not great, to actively bad, to very annoying. There’s Wilde’s highly-publicized affair with pop star turned lead actor Harry Styles, which allegedly catalyzed a fallout with the film’s female star Florence Pugh (who reportedly will not be attending any of the film’s press tour aside from appearing at the Venice Film Festival premiere; Dune 2 being the scapegoat here). Then, there’s the far less plausible rumor that the affair and Wilde’s frequent absences on set led to Pugh ghost-directing parts of the film. And there’s the revelations from Shia LaBeouf, originally cast in Styles’ part, that he was not fired from the production, he quit; the derogatory referral by Wilde of Pugh as “Miss Flo” as she pleaded with Shia to return; and that sneak peek showcasing Styles’ comically unplaceable accent in the film.
Yes, it seems that everything the Don’t Worry Darling production touches has been tainted by scandal, to the point where any anticipation for the film is more to do with the eternally swirling rumors and how they may have contributed to a complete bomb. But is there a chance that the film could come out unscathed despite all else in its orbit going sour? Well, I suppose we’ll be finding out pretty soon, as the film is set to have its premiere in Venice on September 5. But I’m sure that as I’m typing this, even more unfavorable information about Don’t Worry Darling is already in the process of making headlines and trending on Twitter.
The script was notoriously voted onto the Hollywood Blacklist in 2019, and you can easily find the original script online to read for free. I didn’t really feel like doing that, but I did find a helpful plot summary from someone on Reddit (you can read it here, if you’d like; there’s a link to the full script here as well). And if this person’s summary is accurate to the final product, then the movie could be, well…it’s hard to say. It got the rewrite treatment from Set It Up and Booksmart screenwriter Katie Silberman. The script’s original writers, the Van Dyke brothers, have previous credits on some Asylum films and The Chernobyl Diaries; not exactly prestige, awards-buzzy fare. But from the trailers, it’s all too evident that Don’t Worry Darling is going after some heavy-handed social critique on the patriarchy, sexism, American values, suburbia, yadda yadda—topics that have already been done to death in film, and in very good ones at that (Pleasantville, Blue Velvet). The American suburbs harbor darkness underneath: Did you know this? Can Wilde bring something new to the table to make this overworked idea feel fresh?
The chronic impenetrability of this question is beguiling, even if the choice to have Wilde helm something like this does make sense. While DWD is a rare mid-budget film at around $20 million, Wilde secured a generous box office take and meaningful critical and audience favor from the success of the very low-budget Booksmart back in 2019 (Booksmart was also a revised Blacklist script). Wilde is both a hot new name in filmmaking and has established herself as being able to generate profit from her work. It might seem like, on the surface, she’d be the one to take on an ambitious “feminist” story. Wilde thinks so too, as she’s been all too eager to tout her brand of “feminism” i.e. the lack of male orgasms in her upcoming film.
But based on the trailer (which, granted, isn’t close to a definitive marker of the film’s quality), the film appears to be a very stylistic, ambitious, psychologically twisty social thriller. Wilde only has experience directing a coming-of-age comedy, and one bereft of any noteworthy stylistic tics that might make her stand out as a visual director or signal how she might approach a film as seemingly grand as Don’t Worry Darling. To me, it’s like the adult drama version of bringing on Colin Trevorrow to direct Jurassic World because of Safety Not Guaranteed, or any of the number of indie directors who’ve been hired to helm Marvel films with zero experience directing big-budget action films. (I would be remiss if I did not mention that Wilde was tapped to direct a Sony/Marvel film thought to be Spider-Woman, though she has yet to confirm it.)
As a writer on film and also, coincidentally, a fan of it, I always want films to be good. That’s what anyone should want before they’ve seen one. And many infamously embattled film productions have turned out alright and even much better than that, such as the legendarily fraught Apocalypse Now. Though, I feel a certain disquiet evoking Francis Ford Coppola’s masterwork in a piece unpacking the scandal of, uh, Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling. All I’m saying is that, perhaps we should give DWD the benefit of the doubt. A lot of hardworking people uncoupled from scandal (and even the ones very much coupled; I’m sure “Miss Flo” will be excellent) put time and effort into the film, and the potential fruits of their labor should not go unconsidered. So, the question remains: Is there a chance that Don’t Worry Darling is actually good? Well, of course there’s a chance. There’s always a chance. I never had the answer to this question in the first place. I’m just a little worried, darling.
Brianna Zigler is an entertainment writer based in middle-of-nowhere Massachusetts. Her work has appeared at Little White Lies, Film School Rejects, Thrillist, Bright Wall/Dark Room and more, and she writes a bi-monthly newsletter called That’s Weird. You can follow her on Twitter, where she likes to engage in stimulating discussions on films like Movie 43, Clifford, and Watchmen.