Should We Be Worried, Darling?

Olivia Wilde at South by Southwest 2019. DannyB Photos, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

The Misogynistic Tales Encompassing Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling

In anticipation of the release of Don’t Worry Darling, our screens have been bombarded with tumultuous rumours encompassing the film. In particular,  the film’s director, Olivia Wilde, has undergone significant scrutiny regarding her off-screen antics. Her highly publicized custody battle with ex-Jason Sudeikis, and a concurrent relationship with the film’s leading man and well-renowned popstar, Harry Styles, has denounced her private life. Wilde’s professionalism has been undermined by an alleged feud with the film’s female protagonist, Florence Pugh, and the hypocrisy regarding the firing of Shia LaBoeuf, who was originally the film’s intended lead prior to being replaced by Styles.

Most recently, the film’s premiere at the Venice Film Festival incited a series of memes and investigative deep-dives uncovering the fragmented relationship between the cast, turning this decisive moment determining the film’s success into a mockery. However, as the saying goes, there is no such thing as bad press.

Has the film’s frenzied promotion served any benefits? Or does this incident, spurred by our love of drama, reveal a troubling concern regarding our misogynistic cancel culture, serving to humiliate Wilde?

Don’t Worry Darling is set in a seemingly utopian 1950s reality in which Alice (Pugh) and Jack (Styles) express their infatuation for each other while contributing to their societal roles. While Jack and the other men assist the mysterious Victory Project that controls the town, Alice is detained as a housewife who is possessed by an urge to expose her sinister surroundings. Although exploring an intriguing premise, the film provoked various reactions.

Its box office debut in North America was projected at 18 million U.S. dollars, yet the film surpassed this, grossing 19.2 million and topping the box office. The off-screen drama’s influence on spectatorship can be characterized by the viewer demographic, where 66 percent of the audience was comprised of women, most of whom were under the age of 25. On average, this specific age range has greater exposure to social media and pop culture news, and is reflective of the vast majority of Styles’ fan base, which likely played an additional role in attracting attention to the film. While Don’t Worry Darling’s audience score stands at 74 percent, its Rotten Tomatoes score, derived from film critics, ranks significantly lower at 38 percent. This illustrates a dichotomy in which the same factor that engaged audiences repelled many critics, who dismissed the film as less intriguing than the controversies encompassing it. 

In some ways, this bad press has benefited the film commercially. However, its entertainment value did not restore Wilde’s image, as backlash towards her personal drama continues to taint her professional reputation. Here, the misogyny underlining our moral spectrum is revealed. While Wilde is by no means a saint, similar, if not worse, antics have transpired among male directors, yet they have faced considerably fewer repercussions. When male directors engage in on-set romances, this infatuation does not cause them to abandon their professional duties, as Wilde is hypocritically depicted to have done. Even male directors who are accused of atrocities far more harmful than any of Wilde’s behaviour, specifically sexual assault, continue to produce films starring an A-list cast, as evidenced most recently in David O’Russel’s Amsterdam.

For Wilde, this one mishap has put her career in jeopardy; the media reacts as we dig deeper and deeper to create baseless narratives which bury Wilde’s triumphs beneath her personal dilemmas. Society entraps women within its high expectations, requiring them to present a pristine image in order to ensure success.

Wilde’s deviation from this norm, which resulted in her harsh portrayal in the media, echoes Alice’s confinement to the film’s patriarchal society, where her attempts to escape demean her as a neurotic woman disrupting a carefully managed system.

Likewise, in a recent interview with Variety, Wilde explicitly quotes that following her scandals, “this year was a time for [her] to be a stay-at-home mom,” exemplifying the external pressures repressing women back into their expected roles. While it is unclear how Wilde’s career will unravel in the aftermath of this film, we should be worried about the precedent this erratic case has established for women in the film industry and the public eye in general. 

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