What a strange little world we live in. This week, the burning question on everybody’s lips appears to be, completely unironically, whether or not Jason Sudeikis threw himself under the wheels of his former partner Olivia Wilde’s car as she was backing out the driveway. Sudeikis performed the one-man Extinction Rebellion stunt to prevent Wilde from taking a salad with “special dressing” to her new lover Harry Styles. (The special dressing in question appears to be merely a favorite recipe from Nora Ephron’s Heartburn.)
It was the couple’s unnamed nanny who spilled the beans on the protest. (What is it with celebrities and their nannies?) According to nanny anonymous, Sudeikis also allegedly—this is the first “allegedly” in the clusterfuck of allegations in this Hollywood debacle—banned the staff from listening to Styles’s music in the house. Depriving anyone of “Watermelon Sugar” feels particularly petty, but Sudeikis has also had Wilde served a manila envelope with custody papers in front of thirty thousand people at CinemaCon. What can I tell you: Hollywood people really do love a dramatic scene.
And we love drama, too. The internet has been a pack of baying hounds during the slow-motion car crash that has been the production and marketing of Wilde’s second directorial outing. First off, we were excited to see what Wilde would do post-Booksmart—in a sea of teenage angst, Booksmart was almost transcendental in its teenage hopefulness. Shia LaBeouf and Florence Pugh were cast as the main protagonists in Don’t Worry Darling, billed as a 1950s psycho-sexual thriller. Then, there was an incident of some kind—I don’t want to zip past a possible allegation of sexual misconduct, but we have a lot to get through, and as far as I know no charges have been brought—and Shia was replaced with Harry Styles. I’m not sure of the precise order, but these two things followed: Styles and Wilde began a relationship and Wilde and Sudeikis ended one.
Is anyone still with me at this point?
Wilde later did an interview in which she portrayed a sense of sisterhood with Pugh, saying she fired LaBeouf to safeguard the actress. LaBeouf immediately leaked a video in which Wilde essentially pleaded for him to patch things up with “Miss Flo” and return to set. The Venice Film Festival premiere that came shortly afterward—and at which Pugh declined to do press—was a chamber drama all its own.
As you can see, the trouble comes down to rumors and gossip—not so much he-said-she-said, as nobody said. Unfortunately, the “no comment” strategy somehow ratcheted up the ante, leaving us all guessing and grappling for the truth. But at the same time, the actual truth in all of this is irrelevant. We’ve been watching it unfold and learning almost nothing revelatory or of value. The speculation was the entertainment. The not knowing was the thrill. Who among us truly believed Harry Styles spat on Chris Pine in Venice? It was simply an extra-long in-joke, each of us enjoying the frenzy, enjoying the absurdity. We already knew it wasn’t true, and then poor Chris Pine had to issue an apology, not only compounding the absurdity but also ruining our fun. Late-stage Twitter appears to be the frenzied analysis of a moment we’re all fairly certain is made up. We’re just jabbing at each other, jousting our hot takes. It feels harmless, but it’s not.
I’m obviously gutted that a woman-directed Hollywood film descended so quickly into debate about the relationship between two women—whether they liked each other, respected each other, which of them had been wronged and how. We all piled in because it felt benign, but we fell into the toxic trap of misogyny that sees a woman’s creative expression eclipsed by her personal life. Her decorum is scrutinized and prodded and pummeled. This paradigm has cheated Wilde and it’s cheated Pugh—and we don’t expect this from our male directors and actors. It’s the quiet and toxic idea that powerful women (perhaps all women?) manipulate. That women connive. That they go behind each other’s backs to achieve personal goals. All of this is misogyny, plain and simple. Notice it and call it out every single time.
I’m sad that Wilde hasn’t been judged on merit, on the content of her second film. She’s been judged on what we’ve decided was the right way for a woman to work, the right way for a woman to manage her actors, the right way for a woman to leave her partner. I suspect the right way for a woman to date Harry Styles will forever be a topic of conversation for a certain part of the internet; few have emerged from it unscathed. But it pains me to have written this entire piece and never once mentioned the art. We discussed the drama, the ins and the outs, but we never got around to a critique of the film.