“Don’t Worry Darling” has, to be frank, been through the wringer.
It’s a movie that seemingly had a great deal of promise: Star Florence Pugh has been absolutely magnificent in every one of her recent films, director Olivia Wilde received a great deal of praise for her directorial debut, “Booksmart,” and the cast as a whole is nothing short of star-studded. Unfortunately, though, “Don’t Worry Darling” has been embroiled in enough drama and controversy to cause some — well, worry — among fans and critics alike.
The premise of “Don’t Worry Darling” is a seemingly simple one. It takes place in the 1950s, and it focuses on one particular couple in a California town. The character Jack Chambers works for the company that built and maintains the town he and his wife, Alice, live in. The company, however, is incredibly secretive. Alice becomes very curious about what her husband does for a living, and as a result, begins to investigate the so-called “Victory Project” that Jack is working on.
The film is billed as a psychological thriller, and director Olivia Wilde said that she was inspired by movies such as “The Truman Show,” “The Matrix” and “Inception.” Some critics have also drawn parallels between “Don’t Worry Darling” and the 1975 horror film “The Stepford Wives.” Needless to say, all of these movies are cult classics for a reason; the comparisons to “Don’t Worry Darling” felt like a good sign.
Unfortunately, Wilde’s second directorial project was embroiled in controversy right from the start. When the movie was originally cast, Shia LaBeouf was picked to star as Jack Chambers. LaBeouf, however, has a problematic past: In January 2021, musician FKA Twigs filed a lawsuit alleging that LaBeouf abused her “physically, emotionally, and mentally many times” throughout their brief relationship. Another ex-girlfriend, stylist Karolyn Pho, came forward with similar allegations around the time that the lawsuit was filed.
Thus, LaBeouf’s hiring came with a certain amount of baggage. The drama only increased from there, however, after LaBeouf left the cast before filming even began. There were several different theories as to why; one of the most prominent was that Pugh was uncomfortable working with LaBeouf, although one of Pugh’s Instagram posts, in which she mentions her excitement at working with Wilde and LaBeouf both, seemed to contradict that.
Then Olivia Wilde herself got involved. She said that Pugh “expressed discomfort” with working with him, and that she made the executive decision to fire him to make sure Pugh was able to feel comfortable on set.
LaBeouf, however, had a very different story — and he brought proof to back it up. Armed with emails, texts and even a video of Wilde, he made it clear that Wilde was lying. In fact, the exact opposite of her assertion was true. LaBeouf decided to leave on his own, but Wilde very much wanted him to return, even at the expense of Pugh’s mental health.
“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,” Wilde said in the now-leaked video she sent to LaBeouf. She then went on to express her hope that he would return to the production.
Needless to say, this account doesn’t square with Wilde’s comments on the matter. LaBeouf himself admitted confusion about the situation in one of his emails to Wilde, saying, “Firing me never took place … while I fully understand the attractiveness of pushing that story because of the current social landscape … it is not the truth.”
The LaBeouf situation alone would have been detrimental to “Don’t Worry Darling” — not only did it force Wilde to replace one of the two leads, but it also led to a significant amount of negative press. However, Wilde’s recast of Jack Chambers brought increased scrutiny as well. She chose Harry Styles, former One Direction member turned solo–act sensation, to take the role; soon after, she and Styles began dating. Though there didn’t seem to be any problems with this initially, blending the personal and professional always gets tricky and resulted in the complication of an already messy movie set.
Styles isn’t really a seasoned actor like the rest of the cast; in fact, before landing the lead in “Don’t Worry Darling,” he’d only been in one other movie. Additionally, Wilde and Styles’ relationship came with allegations of infidelity and unprofessional behavior, which caused tensions on the set. Reports even came out that Wilde was so wrapped up in Styles that Pugh and other cast members had to step up to direct parts of the production.
Of course, there is no way to know if any of these allegations are true. In fact, almost everything that’s been said about the drama has come from anonymous sources, and the only people who could verify them — the actors themselves — have remained mostly silent. However, that silence could be telling in and of itself, particularly in the case of Florence Pugh.
When it first became known that Pugh had been cast in “Don’t Worry Darling,” she was openly thrilled, even posting on social media about how excited she was to work with Wilde. However, as time progressed, Pugh became noticeably quiet about the film. She refused to acknowledge Wilde’s glowing compliments about her talent and kept her promotional schedule for the film extremely light.
Additionally, when Pugh did decide to talk about “Don’t Worry Darling,” her comments were not what one would expect, especially from someone who had initially expressed so much excitement about the project. She spoke highly of the cast and crew but didn’t directly mention Styles or Wilde, even when she referred to others involved by name. She also went on the record about some of the issues she had with the film; in particular, she disliked how her role had been reduced to just the sex scenes included in the film’s first trailer.
“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 this. It’s not why I’m in this industry,” Pugh said in an interview with Harper’s Bazaar. She then continued, saying, “This movie is bigger and better than that.”
When all of the anecdotes are put together, it becomes clear that “Don’t Worry Darling” was doomed to fall apart from the get-go. Honestly, it seems like a shame, both because of the cast’s immense talent and the initial excitement surrounding the film. However, the drama and interpersonal dynamics ended up eclipsing the movie itself — and it shows in the reviews. Critics praised Pugh’s performance while expressing disappointment in nearly every other aspect of the film. “Don’t Worry Darling” ended up being a bit of a let-down, in no small part due to all that happened behind the scenes. At this point, it seems that the best Wilde and her cast can hope for is that fans enjoy it more than critics — and that the furor surrounding it dies down sooner rather than later.