What If The ‘Don’t Worry Darling’ Drama Actually Changed Celebrity Culture?
We are once again asking if Harry Styles spit on Chris Pine.
I think we can agree that awards shows and film festivals are as much about the spectacle of rarefied stardom as they are the movies.
Whether it’s the Cannes Film Festival or The Golden Globes, these ceremonies showcase a glamour and opulence that is presented as both aspirational and unattainable. And why shouldn’t they be? The silver screen has long been inhabited by those extolled as the gold standard of beauty, class, affluence, and personality.
Arguably, though, this was the year that slapped that facade straight off. Will Smith’s infamous moment of unchecked anger at the Oscars in March offered a peek into someone flawed and human on Hollywood’s most hallowed stage.
But despite the endless cultural conversation around the slap, this wasn’t the event that moved the needle when it comes to the concept of celebrity imperfection. Nay, that honour was carried by one movie and one movie only: Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling.
Wilde’s second feature-length directorial venture, Don’t Worry Darling is a good movie. But unfortunately, nothing about it is even remotely as interesting or as captivating as the drama that followed it on its promotional run. Is that really such a bad thing?
Of course, in the public’s eye Wilde wasn’t an angel when the film started its promotional run. Being a woman in Hollywood – and doing anything the public can even perceive as cheating – is a target on the head, as has been shown by the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Ingrid Bergman before her. Once rumours emerged that she (and her salad dressing) were dating co-star Harry Styles weeks after splitting from Jason Sudeikis, minds were already made up about the movie that hadn’t even finished filming yet.
Then there was the Shia LaBeouf situation. Olivia Wilde apparently fired LaBeouf from the lead role after the assault allegations made by FKA twigs as well as on-set clashes. LaBeouf would later rebuke that he was dismissed, saying he quit before leaking videos of Wilde allegedly asking him to come back, with a sneaky slight to Florence Pugh — “Miss Flo” — for good measure. Pugh and Wilde were then rumoured to be feuding on-set, before Pugh skipped out on multiple photo calls and red carpets entirely.
The movie’s release was months away at this point, and everyone was going out of their way to not make any more unwanted headlines. Feuds were denied; rumours were debunked; and everyone involved in Don’t Worry Darling tried to do just that.
Until Florence Pugh showed up at the Venice Film Festival, that is. A video of the actor dressed in head-to-toe Valentino with an aperol spritz in hand swiftly went viral — just when Olivia Wilde said she wouldn’t make the red carpet due to a scheduling clash. Her stylist and glam team would also rock apparel that read “Miss Flo” across it, seemingly making a not-so-subtle return serve at Wilde.
It was here that Pugh decided she was going to use her celebrity as performance, wielding it like a carrot in front of the millions of slack-jawed donkeys scrolling their timelines. In a few short steps and a gleaming smile to the camera, Pugh gave everyone what they wanted without really doing anything at all.
One day later, when the cast sat down to watch the film at the premiere, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment captivated the internet for far longer than it needed to: Did Harry Styles spit on Chris Pine? Suddenly, Will Smith’s slap was a distant memory, and a possible beef between Styles and Pine was all anyone could talk about.
Wilde, Pine, and even the film’s crew members went on damage control — there was no feud, there was no spit, there was no drama behind-the-scenes whatsoever. In the end, though, it didn’t really matter — the film’s future audience had already made up their minds, or at least were revelling in the chaos.
Meanwhile, swiftly attempting to shut down the gossip train only served to prove how out-of-touch these people were. Adults fight. Adults can be catty. Adults can be unprofessional. The entire industry of reality TV is built on showcasing this fact. You don’t see NeNe Leakes or Lisa Rinna denying feud gossip — and if they do, they make sure to target the ones who could’ve spread the lies in the first place.
Of course, reality stars are reality stars, and actors are actors: but there’s something to be said about why we love reality stars just so much. These people aren’t building personas of familiarity or even aspiration. They’re living lives of complete, unattainable, shameless excess — while daring you to come have a look.
This is where, in 2022, celebrity as a commodity falls short. In a world dominated by reality stars and influencers, ‘relatability’ is something the famous among us strive to project. But it’s not something you can achieve or attain – it just is.
Cardi B, a former reality TV star, has been authentically herself since audiences first saw her. Adele’s quintessential sense of humour doesn’t grate you because she’s always been that way. When celebrities lack those personalities, they can try and fake it; but audiences will probably see right through the charade.
On the flip side, you have celebrities like Beyoncé who go out of their way to make sure we know nothing about them besides their work. Her celebrity persona is so meticulously crafted to be as mysterious as possible; achieving a standard of fame that is unreachable simply because she refuses to address chinks in her armour the way that most of the Don’t Worry Darling cast has. Audience attention is fickle — we only remember what the timeline tells us — and for some celebrities, it’s best to just wait it out.
Now, certainly when it comes to the drama with Wilde’s relationship with Sudeikis, or maybe even questions of behaviour on-set, that needs to remain private. We non-celebrities are lecherous, and will cling onto drama of people who work hard to convince us there isn’t any; but that doesn’t make it respectable or even right. Nor can Wilde really be blamed for trying to defend questions of her professionalism or leadership, especially when her male director colleagues routinely cross the lines of professionalism with no questions whatsoever.
But the spit? The spit was ours. We needed the spit. We deserved it.
The spit did absolutely nothing to the reputation of either Styles nor Pine, and we all knew that someone as unspeakably famous as Harry Styles wouldn’t just spit on Chris Pine in such a public forum. But does that matter? No! We were having fun convincing ourselves that this thing, which definitely didn’t happen, happened; and the morbid sense of community that came along with us all being in on the joke.
Styles took it in his stride, with his first words on the matter a few days later being: “I just popped very quickly to Venice to spit on Chris Pine… but fret not, we’re back.” This is the attitude celebrities need to have if they want to seem at all relatable: be a part of the joke with us.
Rumours are rumours, and almost none of them are worth addressing, but in a time where meme is king, don’t fight back. We know Lea Michele can read. We know Avril Lavigne isn’t a clone. But just let us have it. These things don’t negate their talent or work ethic or even how likeable they are. They’re just stupid jokes. And guess what? Life is just as stupid.
The outright denial of the story from Pine and Wilde, perhaps out of exhaustion from the other headlines surrounding the film, just reminded us that they’ll never be like us. Desperate attempts to shape the public’s perception of you will only obliterate any sense of normality that you’re trying to portray.
My message to celebrities in 2023: embrace whatever ridiculousness comes hurtling your way. When Lady Gaga was asked about rumours around her genitals back in the early days of her career, she wasn’t getting lawyers and representatives to speak to every press outlet making sure people knew the truth. She sat on The Jonathan Ross Show, teacup in hand, and uttered the now immortal words: “Well, I do have a really big donkey dick.”
Next year, celebrities, if sensational rumours come at you that ultimately do nothing to harm your reputation or your career: don’t fight it. Make like Gaga, and just let that donkey dick hang.
Jackson Langford is a music and culture writer from Newcastle. He tweets at @jacksonlangford.
Photo credit: Getty Images