In a series of special year-end roundtable discussions, The A.V. Club looks back at the stories that made the biggest impact on pop culture in 2022.
We get it. You, the readers of The A.V. Club, are tired of hearing about Olivia Wilde and Harry Styles and Florence Pugh and all the rest. Believe it or not, we, the writers of The A.V. Club, are also pretty tired of discussing it. Hopefully, as we put 2022 to bed, we can stop talking about this in 2023, at least until Ryan Murphy inevitably turns the whole fiasco into Netflix’s most-watched series of all time in 2025. Here four A.V. Club staffers discuss the whole Don’t Worry Darling fiasco—and, yes, the actual movie—and why we talked about it so much this year.
Matt Schimkowitz: There is no shortage of lackluster Hollywood movies sold on behind-the-scenes drama. Don’t Worry Darling is really at the center of a perfect storm. To think, the press cycle for this movie began with Olivia Wilde getting her custody papers on stage in May, then proceeded to touch upon so many hot topics in pop culture. There was the zenith of Harry Styles and Florence Pugh’s fame; the collapse of Wilde’s relationship with Hollywood nice guy Jason Sudeikis; and the ongoing saga of Shia LaBeouf, who weaseled his way into the fray late in the game. And all that was probably before Styles “spit” on Chris Pine. Remember that? There was so much intrigue and politicking and, really, a power vacuum in the narrative. Things were spinning out of control and no one was taking the reigns. The movie benefited because all that drama was a hell of a lot more interesting than Don’t Worry Darling, one of the worst movies of the year.
Drew Gillis: I also agree that the behind-the-scenes drama was more interesting than the film. There were so many strong, divisive personalities involved; personally, I can’t stand Harry Styles’ public persona, I found Olivia Wilde to be pretty self-righteous about a feminist narrative that I felt wasn’t ultimately reflected in the movie, and, worst by far, is the fact that Shia LaBeouf has been accused of abuse for years. Any of these people grab (usually negative) attention any time they’re mentioned, but having them all involved in the same project was a recipe for this kind of thing.
When I saw the first trailer for the movie, though, I was genuinely excited. I liked Booksmart enough, and I’ve adored Florence Pugh in basically everything I’ve seen her in. I was hoping that the BTS mess would somehow pull out the best from this team, but the opposite happened—in hindsight, really the only thing that could have happened.
Hattie Lindert: If we’re talking “cultural images stuck in my brain from this year,” the DWD cast on the Venice red carpet is way up there. You’re so right, Matt, that the film fell right at the nexus of so many easily devourable narratives—the clearest to me being the intrigue of on-set romance (and internet sleuths’ pathological desire to sniff out infidelity via timelines and context clues). I really wanted to defend Wilde on this movie—I loved Booksmart, and nobody deserves to be put in a situation like she was with the custody papers. But all I could think watching it in theaters, especially during the disastrous second half, was: “While personal drama and the tabloid cycle got in the way, DWD’s entire budget was spent on filming those cars driving through the desert.”
And Drew, you’re right on the money with the failed feminism of it all—any kind of “revolutionary” message Wilde had intended to construe came across almost comically milquetoast. The Harry-Styles-eating-pussy bit must be the most overhyped scene in a movie this year, if we’re measuring based on the gap between what Wilde repeatedly promised and its actuality.
Gabrielle Sanchez: I think Wilde’s route of really leaning into the (non-existing) merits of the film as things began to combust only worked against her.
MS: It was all vague, arbitrary signs of misogyny and patriarchy tacked onto a disastrous twist that only made things more irritating. But hey, Kate Berlant and Nick Kroll kind of brought the heat. This movie should’ve been a comedy. At least then I could hang with the other Harry’s look.
GS: Once the narrative around the film became, “Esteemed actor Florence Pugh had to take control because Wilde is too busy with her on-set affair with the film’s lead, who also happens to be a huge music star,” it didn’t just become about behind-the-scenes gossip, but a question of her professionalism. And to boot, her defense of being like, “Well male directors do it all the time!” did not do her any favors. And the Florence Pugh of it all! The drama only got louder as Pugh dipped from press interviews and refused to publicly promote the film.
MS: One can only deal with being called “Miss Flo” so many times.
GS: Pugh’s at the top of her game, a fact that was only reinforced when the DWD reviews dropped praising her performance and hating everything else.
HL: One thing I can say for sure about DWD: as dismal as the final product ended up, it was one of my favorite movie theater experiences of 2022. I saw the film amongst a sold-out, raucous crowd who laughed together in a way I hadn’t been privy to since before the pandemic—the group gasp at the “other Harry” reveal was priceless. If that had to do more with the meme-ification of the film than its gripping plot ... so what! Wilde’s not exactly Tom Cruise-ing, but from where I’m standing, she certainly had a hand in keeping cinemas afloat this year.
DG: The Harry-Styles-eating-pussy scene is actually such an interesting microcosm of the whole ordeal to me because I thought the scene in the movie worked really well. We see Pugh’s character slaving away over dinner and setting the table, only for Style’s character to get home from work, knock everything off the table, and, you know, eat her right then and there. The scene is well directed—it’s comparing Pugh to a piece of meat being offered up to her husband, which is her character’s condition within Victory. But, for whatever reason, Wilde ran with it being indicative of female pleasure. It was all very strange once I actually saw the movie.
HL: So true, Drew. It’s almost like if Wilde had just let the moment work, instead of leading the audience to read it as explicitly pro- or anti-female pleasure, she could’ve come closer to achieving the kind of discourse it seemed like she had hoped to with the film.
MS: You don’t think a few of those grotesque Busby Berkley homages would’ve helped the scene? I don’t even think the movie has a take on female vs. male pleasure. It’s interested in surface-level aesthetics, coasting on Wilde’s reputation as a feminist to give the movie any meaning.
GS: It was the utilization of “feminism” and “decrying the patriarchy” as a defense for herself and the film that really irked me. Yes, DWD has a meager message on patriarchal dominance, but dropping in the word feminism in a way to build up yourself and your movie simply does not work anymore, especially when there’s nothing there to substantiate it.
That’s not to be like “boo feminism,” but painting yourself as a feminist vanguard when you make something like DWD is just ... a reach. Especially when The Stepford Wives is right there! Not that it’s anywhere close to an incredible movie, but ...
DG: Pugh’s character is basically in sexual servitude, so making it about pleasure, at all, was strange. It felt to me like that discussion had more to do with the open secret/gossip column element of Wilde’s relationship with Styles than with the content of the film. And you’re right, Gabrielle—that conversation wasn’t (or shouldn’t have been) so much about Wilde’s dalliance and more about the alleged lack of professionalism on the set and Pugh having to step up for her.
MS: Can we spoil the twist? [Editor’s note: We’re about the spoil the twist.] I’m not one to get hung up on stuff like that, but there’s a point in the movie where it feels like there’s nothing that could satisfy all the random, non-specific junk that happens in the movie. Landing on the “it was all a dream” didn’t help. But even the reality Wilde paints is just as fantastical and vague. Pugh is playing an emergency room doctor? Harry, a podcast lovin’ incel who kidnapped and imprisoned her? No one’s looking for her? Does this happen to women all over the country? Chris Pine hosts that podcast? I almost respect Wilde’s work from a carnival barker perspective.
GS: As rich and somewhat layered as all this mess was, there still was a time where I wanted to grab my computer screen and shout, “Enough already!”
MS: “Enough already!” raves Gabrielle Sanchez, The A.V. Club.
GS: Now feels like a good time to say that I never even got around to watching the movie because by the time it actually came out I was so worn down, beaten, and broken by the news cycle around it.
MS: You didn’t miss much.
DG: I had planned to see it in the theater and then got there and saw Bros instead. I did see it when it got to HBO Max, though, for the record!
HL: Avoiding the movie based on the news cycle seems fair—I have a feeling you’re not the only one, Gabrielle!
DG: And Matt, you’re right that the twist was unnecessary because the baseline world was so ungrounded. Florence Pugh was like a 26-year-old surgeon? Either her character was aged up, or there’s a new conversation about nepotism babies that needs to be had.
HL: Much like the trolley-adoring residents of Victory, I think the best approach for making it through this movie on a first watch is to be along for the ride, and not ask too many questions about where you’re going and why (chances are you’ll get stuck in a plot hole). One question from the whole fiasco of a rollout that I’ll expect cold hard answers to one day, however, is actually one Matt led with: Did Harry Styles spit on Chris Pine?
DG: Oh Hattie, how I wish Harry had actually spit on Chris, but ultimately, I think the answer is no. I don’t think Harry Styles has ever done something that bold in his life.
GS: That man did no such thing.
MS: Whatever happened, Chris Pine’s reaction was a thing of beauty, especially when you see the full video. The best part of DWD is it made Chris Pine an actual movie star instead of a forgotten (and best) Chris.
DG: And there we have it.
[This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.]