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Can anybody benefit from scandal anymore? – A piece ignited by ‘Don’t Worry Darling’

Updated: Oct 25, 2022

When talking to friends about the scandals, gossip, ‘conspiracies’ (a word that has ended up weirdly apt) that have surrounded, enveloped, overshadowed and in many ways fuelled the release of Olivia Wildes’ new film Don’t Worry Darling, it is fair to say that everybody is quite surprised that I’m relishing it all so much. I ask of them why? And they respond all very differently, but the biggest factor is those involved in this scandal are not exactly people hot on my radar.

But then again that’s not exactly true either. I for one loved Wilde’s debut with Booksmart, and have been looking forward to this film for some time. The pitch alone - a Stepford Wives tale with a modern angle - excited me, although I will take the blind guess without even watching this film that one should simply just rewatch the original Stepford Wives, or read the novel. Florence Pugh, or as she will be referred to as for the rest of this article, Miss Flo, is one of our great current actresses and has never not sold a role for me wholly and completely. This collaboration was enough to get me excited. Chris Pine and so many other members of the ensemble too are some of my favourites. Then there’s the object of everybody’s fascination, Harry Styles, perhaps the biggest star in the world right now, appearing here for his first major acting role. And yes, he was good in Dunkirk, but he was in it for ten minutes running and fighting against a water current - of course he was good.

But then... piece by piece, story by story, ‘own shot foot’ after ‘own shot foot’, the film itself was no longer the thing we began to want. Darling has become something that we haven’t had in many, many years: a scandal we can relish. Whatever quality the film ends up taking doesn’t matter anymore. It could never overshadow the months of glorious social media speculation that we have all relished and enjoyed. For me the only question that remains is - can a film benefit anymore from such a scandal?

Let me discuss the notion of 'scandal' in the modern world, for I want to make a chief distinction. It’s not that this is the first scandal we’ve had in years, but it’s the first in some time that we’ve been able to enjoy. Now we can talk some other time how the rampant misogyny against Wilde and the repeated bullying of those whose side you are or aren’t on is of course the furthest thing from ‘fun’. However what we have on our hands here is something that’s fun to talk about, it’s fun for twitter to have a field day with. To say it plainly the past ten years of scandals have been mostly surrounding the #MeToo movement, situations innately difficult to those coming forward, to their lives, to their careers, to their films, their promotion and the industry overall, with whole films being pulled and remade in part on certain occasions. Twitter debates about Spacey being removed or Elgort staying in are deeply serious sides of scandal, dealing with victims and acts of violence. And I did not want to ignore or diminish that whilst discussing the scandal surrounding this film.

But this scandal is the other face of the word. There is fun in this gossip. There is fun in a good old fashioned glimpse behind the curtain; that there were arguments, that Wilde and Styles romance bled onto the set, or even in Pugh’s acceptance and glorious dismissal of so many factors of the situation. This is the first of these that I have had to enjoy in my movie-going lifetime. Other fun scandals as include the many affairs that have occurred before, or famous feuds. Now of course there is a long history of these sorts of leaks of information leading to financial gain. Mr and Mrs Smith gained a boost to see if the chemistry of Brangelina was indeed enough to dismiss the America's sweetheart, Jennifer Aniston. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf had a success that many even attributed to the possibility of this being a glimpse behind the curtain of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor’s storied relationship, when in actuality it was very far from the truth (other than a few drunken remarks here and there ringing true). It’s a phenomena that we do to ourselves to build up an excitement that we can never fulfil. It’s not like we will sit down to watch Darling and there will be a middle block of 20 minutes of candid footage of some of the arguments. It'll just be the film that I was excited about in the first place, that will now never live up to my expectations. How could it? Like with all these scandals, the thing has outgrown itself.

But in my title I asked a question; can anybody benefit from a scandal anymore? Now we’re of course talking about larger Hollywood politics and, more importantly, the fabric of an industry already divided and morally bankrupt in certain aspects. This movie has been made and will be put in cinemas for one particular reason - the star of Harry Styles. Wilde is coming off a solid success, and Pugh is of course beloved in film fields, but Styles is a supersonic star. With this and My Policeman coming out later this year, he is now attempting domination of the acting world. Who knows if he will succeed. However, whilst studios frequently used to benefit from this sort of unfortunate gossip, the people involved rarely ever benefit. Of course it's fun for us to discuss these huge celebrities as if they were just characters in an on-going series, but they are real people. Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is that it’s nowhere near as fun to discuss them as real people as it is to discuss the possibility of a huge star spitting on another huge star. At the heart of this is the human compulsion to ignore the real life effect and focus on the thing that we gravitate towards naturally; the gossip, the fun stuff, the humour of it all.

The box office will be fine. Wilde has come off as a careless opportunist at worst, when it comes to ,in my eyes, her clear attempt to take advantage (yes that’s what I’ll call it) of the Shia LaBeouf abuse allegations despite ignoring matters in the initial casting that have been public record for years, and at best as someone who certainly did not make a comfortable set. Styles has already been railed against for what we have seen acting-wise so far, and so I doubt he will benefit much from this. The only one who I think will pull through this with grace, class, humour and edge is Miss Flo. Miss Flo, Miss Pugh, has owned this whole affair and has run a masterclass in humility and elegance in the face of commercial disaster – she will benefit in her performance in the film, I have no doubt, and will too benefit in her social dynamics and her career from absolutely owning every element of this affair that has been thrown up against her. Yes, it does seem some people can still benefit from a scandal.

And then of course there is us, the audience - have we benefited? Well in the most base of ways, of course we have. We’ve had reams of gossip to enjoy and fight over and we’ve had discourse aplenty that we can discuss until we grow infuriated, give it a break and then go back to arguing over when we’re ready to get back involved. The realms of Twitter have become not unlike Jim Garrison discussing ‘back and to the left, back and to the left’ in J.F.K – the moment I listened to a podcast and saw a re-tweet that this was not an original thought/joke, I realised at the end of the day we have been eating our own tail for some-time.

Upon the release of the film over on Carruthers, Leggetter & Whoever, there will be a written review from myself (talking solely of the film), as well as an emergency podcast with my three closest Styles and Pugh confidantes (which will talk about the whole affair, aswell as the film itself). See you at the movies, or in this case on Twitter, it’s far more entertaining.


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