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Cracking Spitgate: A recap of all the Don’t Worry Darling Venice drama

A director vs. star feud, desperate lip locks and errant spit made for one of the most buzzy promo tours in recent memory

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A recap of all the Don't Worry Darling drama at the Venice Film Festival
The cast of Don’t Worry Darling at the Venice Film Festival premiere
Photo: Kate Green (Getty Images)

Are you tired of all the drama surrounding Olivia Wilde’s sophomore film? Has the Internet quite exhausted you by insisting they actually are worried, darling? Does it leave you baffled, bothered, bemused and bewildered that a movie generally averaging C- reviews has seized the attention of the film community so totally? Click away now, then, with this writer’s blessing; no good can come from continuing down this well-trod path, and with any luck, the furor will die down soon.

If you’re still here, then perhaps you, too, have felt the allure of a delicious promo tour drama the likes of which Hollywood hasn’t seen in years. (“Last time I followed a news event in real time this closely was Jan 6th,” wrote Twitter user @staidindoors, speaking for all the terminally online.) While tensions amidst the cast first arose on set, it all came to a head with the Venice Film Festival, where Don’t Worry Darling became the premiere that launched a thousand memes. As a matter of historical record, what follows is a recap of all the petty drama that occurred on Sunday, September 5.

First, some context. If you have somehow missed the multi-year saga of behind-the-scenes struggles on DWD, a hearty congratulations to you. Otherwise, you are probably already aware that Shia LaBeouf was first cast in the film shortly before being accused of domestic abuse; his specter loomed large over the Venice premiere after sharing evidence that suggested he was not fired from the movie, as Wilde had claimed. LaBeouf was replaced by pop star Harry Styles, with whom Wilde began a romantic relationship (the timeline of which is murky as it relates to her relationship with Jason Sudeikis). Lastly, somewhere along the line Wilde had a falling out with her leading lady Florence Pugh, possible reasons for which have been hotly speculated but never confirmed.

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And this is where our story begins: with Pugh’s promotion responsibilities for DWD dwindling down to nothing but a red carpet appearance. For what it’s worth, it was reportedly always the plan that Pugh would miss most of the events in Venice (because of her Dune shooting schedule), and Wilde, as usual, only had glowing things to say about the actor during the film’s press conference.

Even without Pugh’s pointed absence, the Don’t Worry Darling press conference would have sent tongues wagging. The festival apparently blocked reporters from asking any questions about LaBeouf (per The New York Times); instead, Styles was given much airtime to say things like, “What I like about acting is the feeling that I have no idea what I’m doing.” The film’s other star, Chris Pine, birthed the first of many memes looking not-very-engaged with his translation headphones on. And within minutes of Wilde dismissing the “tabloid nonsense” around her star’s no-show, Pugh was arriving in Venice in an eye-catching purple ensemble and toasting the Internet with an Aperol Spritz. Cue another timeless meme.

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Styles, who has been unfathomably famous since he was 16 years old and presumably media trained within an inch of his life, continued to struggle with articulating his thoughts about the film. “My favorite thing about the movie is like, it feels like a movie,” he said in another interview as his co-star looked on. Chris Pine is dissociating! crowed the Internet. You can see his soul leaving his body! Boom–another meme floods Twitter, and the day is far from over.

The red carpet for the premiere proved to be its own microcosm for Don’t Worry Darling’s issues. Pugh glowingly greeted co-star Nick Kroll and got her photo taken by Pine on a disposable camera (yep: meme’d). But when it came time for the group photos, the cast’s neutral members Pine, Gemma Chan, and Sydney Chandler were strategically deployed to separate Pugh, Wilde, and Styles. “It’s inspiring to see a woman push back and say no, and question everything, and it’s very exciting to see a woman do that, in and out, off camera,” Pugh said cryptically to one reporter. “And I’m so lucky I get to do that time and time again, especially with this movie.”

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(Sidebar drama: Pugh’s stylist Rebecca Corbin-Murray shared photos of her client to Instagram with the telling caption, “Miss Flo,” a reference to Wilde’s controversial video message to Shia LaBeouf. Meanwhile, Wilde’s stylist, Kara Welch, shared an Instagram story that read only, “There’s always more to the story….”)

The awkwardness continued inside the theater as the stars were once again very intentionally placed. “[Whoever] made this seating arrangement has planned a wedding with divorced parents,” joked Twitter user Trina Watters. Pine delighted observers once again by putting on his sunglasses just before the lights went down: “oh that man is taking a nap,” tweeted @tracesofswift. The memes keep churning.

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Despite the subsequent trouncing by critics, the Venice audience gave the film a warm response. For those of you on Clap Watch, Variety claims the four-minute ovation “would probably have gone on longer if Pugh hadn’t made her way for the exit about three minutes into the clapping.” Instead, the reportedly “teary-eyed” star only stuck around to snub her director, with Variety’s Ramin Setoodeh tweeting that Pugh “[refused] to make eye contact with Olivia Wilde.” Going for broke after what was surely one of the messiest days in festival history, Styles gave Kroll a congratulatory kiss on the lips, queerbaiting critics be damned. At that point, why not?

Then, just as it seemed the chaos was finally over and the jokes had all been filed to Know Your Meme, Them editor Michael Cuby stirred up a new drama by tweeting at Harry Styles, “Did you or did you not spit on Chris Pine?” And thus, Spitgate was born.

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The video was deleted, but not before being clipped, gifed, slow-mo’d, investigated, and yes, meme’d to an inch of its life. It depicted Styles approaching his seat next to Pine, who stopped clapping, looked down at his lap, and laughed. A suspicious movement around Styles’ mouth supported the theory that he had, in fact, spit on Pine, and Twitter fairly exploded with jokes.

Whether Styles actually spit on Pine is less important than the pure amusement so many of us derived from it, but in the interest of the historical record, this writer will admit it seems unlikely. As author Bolu Babalola pointed out, Pine “made no move to wipe” any spit from his lap. Plus, in zoomed-in versions of the clip, Styles’ lips seem to be pressed together. Other explanations have been put forward for Pine’s paused applause, from the dramatic (he was waiting to see if the ostensibly dating Styles and Wilde would speak to each other, and laughed when they didn’t) to the mundane (he lost track of his sunglasses and laughed realizing they were right in his lap). Sadly, we may never know the truth.

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And so, we come to the end of the Don’t Worry Darling Venice saga—but not nearly to the end of the DWD saga as a whole. There are actually two whole weeks left before this movie is released, and if the festival premiere was anything to go by, that’s plenty of time for more ridiculousness. Whether you welcome continued chaos or are fatigued by it, there certainly hasn’t been a press tour like it in recent memory. As to whether this will drive audiences to theaters (even with those negative reviews)... don’t worry, darling, it seems this film will do just fine.