Musings
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Olivia Wilde + The Celebrity Discourse.

By: Jen Shoop

Have you been following the drama around the film “Don’t Worry Darling,” directed by Olivia Wilde? People has published “A Complete Timeline” if you want to get up to speed, but it is quite the spectacle. Cast romances, talent being hired and fired, ill-will between actors, a moment in which Harry Styles purportedly spit on cast mate Chris Pine…?! It’s almost so scandalous that I call rigging. As in, was some of this dreamt up for the purposes of marketing the movie? I find it puzzling and incredible, how seemingly absent handlers and PR people have been across all of these incidents. As a narrow example, there is a whole sub-rivulet of intrigue linking a leaked conversation between Shia LaBoeuf (originally cast in the movie but apparently fired) and director Olivia Wilde to the seemingly pejoratively-used nickname “Miss Flo,” which Florence Pugh in turn had embroidered on the shirts her makeup team wore as they prepped her for the Venice Film Festival, I suppose as a kind of indirect back-talk?

It is a web of pettiness and pretty faces.

I can’t ascertain why I have fallen into it, especially because I barely know who Olivia Wilde is. I recognize her exclusively from the mediocre 2013 movie “Drinking Buddies,” in which I recall thinking she seemed dynamic and beautiful in a way that dwarfed the rest of the movie. That is, her star quality seemed outsized relative to the film itself. I had the feeling then that maybe this movie was a kind of accidental, or misjudged, role choice for Wilde and that she had other big movies I’d missed, perhaps from a few years back? But I was wrong, and, looking at her IMDB page today, I don’t think I’ve seen her in anything else since. I’m sure this says more about me and my film taste than it does about her.

But then again? Earlier this week, Anne Helen Petersen published an provocative, slightly corrosive, take on the discourse around Olivia Wilde and this movie in particular, in which she observes that Wilde has always been “distinctly below the radar,” and better at the role of “movie star” than she is at any of the roles she’s played in her films. (Ouch, but — ?) Petersen goes on to liken Wilde to Angelina Jolie, observing that “Directing has allowed Wilde to bend focus away from her star image and towards her skill. But also like Jolie, there’s something conflicted about that turn. Instead of going full Sarah Polley and rejecting celebritization, both have made decisions in their (public) personal lives that have made it difficult to focus on, well, the work. And I get it, people fall in love with whoever they fall in love with — but falling in love with Brad Pitt, like falling in love with Harry Styles, is a decision with consequences. At this point, I think Wilde’s artistic ambitions (again like Jolie’s) are larger than her skill level.” She concludes with a prediction: “Don’t Worry Darling itself will be declared a bomb. It doesn’t matter if it’s intermittently promising, or attempting to do something interesting. It’s just not good enough, not even close, to distract from the discourse around it.”

In graduate school, I carefully and exclusively cultivated a textualist approach to reading. I felt at that time that any creative work could and should be read as though in a vacuum. I believed that any book or poem or cultural phenomena presented its own hermeneutics: for example, you could ascertain meaning simply by examining the narrative structure and its repetitions, chapter ordering, plot design. Looking back, I think I clung to this “close reading” approach because I felt deeply insecure about the rigorousness of my chosen academic path. I’d had friends imply that pursuing English was wool-gathering work. I particularly recall a conversation with a friend in which he suggested that English majors sat around dreamily reading whatever they’d like into the texts in front of them, and that, aside from the labor of heavy reading, it was an easy path: it was impossible to get a bad score, he implied, because any interpretation was purportedly valid. He was not aiming for unkindness, but I stiffened at the innuendo. Within this context, adopting a textualist approach was tantamount to lacing up my boots. It was, in my mind, a more empirically-founded approach to the subject. I was not “reading whatever I’d like into a text” but excavating the text, isolating and pointing out its chief features as though a lepidopterist pinning wings to a mounting board.

I look back on those graduate school grievances and see only my greenness. I now consider it not only a fallacy but a functional impossibility that any work of art exists outside of cultural discourse. Art operates across an infinite number of discourses. As sculptor Robert Rauschenberg put it — “the personal one-to-one confrontations make every work unique for each person. Each work is a collaboration with the spectator and his or her own life.” And it is also, I would add, a collaboration with past and present cultures.

What interests me about Wilde, “Don’t Worry Darling,” and Petersen’s smart though scalding interpretation of it all is the sublimation of the art itself to the broader discourses around celebrity, gender, Hollywood, and sex. It reminds me of those star-stuffed movies like “He’s Just Not That Into You.” Though I do actually enjoy that movie on its own, the star wattage is blinding. It is impossible to fully plunge into the plot because “oh! there’s Bradley Cooper, too? And ScarJo? And Ben Affleck?” (And and and.) That is, in some films, I find myself lurching involuntarily toward the inverse of my grad school textualism: the celebrity eclipses the art. And so what am I actually “reading” in those cases? I am not so much engaging in an analysis of the movie “Don’t Worry Darling” but in the dynamics of Hollywood celebrity. “Don’t Worry Darling” is like the finger bowl before the feast.

What do we think of this spectacle, Magpies? Specifically, what does it mean to find ourselves reading a celebrity discourse rather than an artistic one when we sit down to a movie?

Post-Scripts.

+Movies I watch over and over again.

+Writing, fishing, and the Roaring Fork River.

+On finding a tranquil frame of mind.

Shopping Break.

+This fab Ulla dress is on sale. Great wardrobe staple.

+I recently polled my Instagram Magpies on their favorite winter moisturizers. The two most upvoted: Tatcha’s Dewy Skin Cream and Skinceuticals Triple Lipid Skin Restore. I think I’m going to start with the Tatcha! (Any other big recs?)

+Going to share a post later this week on all the fall footwear I’ve purchased for my children, but just got these in the navy for micro.

+This Christy Dawn dress is really so pretty. I love the idea of layering it beneath a chunky cable knit cardigan.

+LOVE this mini skirt for fall.

+I saw my girlfriend Jen wearing this dress on Insta and she looked SO CHIC.

+I do still love a big poncho situation for these beginning-to-be-chilly days. This $30 oversized herringbone check one is so fun.

+This faux shearling coverall for a little one is beyond adorable.

+Cienta just came out with their mary janes in velvet!!!

+This navy blazer is a forever piece.

+If you’re looking for a great inexpensive tablecloth, I like the simple and rustic vibe of this French stripe one, or this ticking stripe one. They’re almost intentionally inexpensive — like dish towels! — and so they don’t look like they’re trying too hard.

+For $60, worth trying these jeans. I love the on-trend shape. I find this brand runs small, so I would size up.

+Sweet $21 sweater for a little.

+Into this hot pink Zara moment!

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12 thoughts on “Olivia Wilde + The Celebrity Discourse.

  1. Such an interesting take on how celebrity can eclipse talent, and how talent at being a celebrity is its own animal. What I find compelling about the Don’t Worry Darling scandals boils down to a couple of things: 1. It feels low-stakes and a bit victimless (though it likely doesn’t feel that way to the actual participants and their love/professional lives) and therefore an easy guilty pleasure; 2. I think many of us can relate to a messy work dynamic (a manager pursuing a relationship with a colleague, or toxic office dynamics) and therefore, it makes usually stratosphere-level celebrities relatable.

    1. Hi! These are such great (and well-put) observations about the appeal (?) of this drama. I appreciated the good-hearted reminder that these are actual people (!), though it can often feel like they live in a totally different stratosphere, cushioned behind multiple layers of PR, handlers, and other machinery.

      xx

  2. Just have to point out that Olivia Wilde directed Booksmart in 2019, which I thought was excellent and highly recommend if you haven’t seen it.

    1. Seconding the Booksmart rec – one of my favorite movies in recent years! Although I’ll always remember Olivia Wilde from her brief stint on The OC (am I dating myself?). My friend went to boarding school with her and her actual last name is … much less celebrity sounding ha.

  3. My takeaway from the Discourse is: I’m really surprised how quick people are to demonize Olivia Wilde in all of this, with nothing but rumors to go on. If anything, I think she’s been nothing but gracious and mature no matter what’s happening behind the scenes or with her divorce. Florence seems to be taking any opportunity to be petty and people love it, but it seems childish to me. Surely you can have disagreements with your coworkers and still play nice for the cameras when this is your job? It does seem that for whatever reason Olivia has not been totally forthcoming about what happened with Shia, but there’s clearly a lot to the story that we just don’t know, and I don’t think she’s done anything to deserve the vitriol.

    1. Hi Dana – Agreed, I’m curious about the intensity of the backlash to a lot of this. I agree with you that Wilde does not seem to have fed into this and has repeatedly attempted to quiet the rumors. That said, I personally believe that tone tends to be set “from the top.” Like — the bosses, team leaders, teachers, even my own parents and in-laws set the tone for the behavior/mood/experience for everyone else involved. And so I have to wonder about Wilde as the director of the film? Still, not sure why this would be met with such backlash in general, to your point.

      So interesting…

      xx

  4. I am torn on Olivia Wilde. On one hand, I am repulsed by her leaving her children and commonlaw husband to follow Harry Styles around the world like a teenager and even more bothered by the thought that her relationship with Styles likely began while she was still dating Sudeikis. On the other, I would have to bet that men in Hollywood – and other positions and industries of power – have affairs and/or abandon their children all the time, so why condemn Wilde? Is she setting women further back with her complicated personal life, or is she turning the tables over by embodying a male stereotype (i.e. leave faithful partner and co-parent for much younger, edgier, of-the-moment new beau)?

    Your point about “He’s Just Not That Into You” nails exactly what I’d been feeling about that movie but was unable to articulate for years. The star power definitely overshadows the plot! Interestingly, I didn’t notice it in other star-studded casts, and I can’t tell what the difference is. For example, American Hustle, one of my favorites, has Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, JLaw, and Robert DiNiro, does not give the same feeling. Maybe it’s because “American Hustle,” from the costumes to the music, is so larger than life itself compared to “He’s Just Not That Into You?”

    As always, excellent food for thought.

    1. Such an interesting point about which films seem to be overshadowed by a celebrity-studded cast, and which don’t? Does it have to do with quality of other elements of the film, e.g., script and directing and cinematography?

      It’s interesting because I’m thinking about Tom Hanks right now. He is so…Tom Hanks-y. And yet some of his movies I love and others I just can’t stop thinking about “Oh, it’s Tom Hanks with a bad accent.” Is it sacrilegious to say that? (I do love him!). As an example, I couldn’t stand him in the new Elvis movie. I just kept thinking about his accent. But I adore him in so many other movies, and sort of shrug off his Tom Hanksiness.

      Have to think on this more.

      xx

  5. I’ve been following it too! I always love a celebrity scandal, but I agree – this one has seemed never ending and extra. So many components to it! (I tried explaining it to my husband, but realized it was a lost cause when he said “wait, what does Ted Lasso have to do with this again?!)
    I’m not sure if you caught Olivia’s recent appearance on Stephen Colbert, but he drove home the point that there’s a big sexist/ mysogonistic component to all of this. There are so many male directors who have been known to clash and have drama on their sets (Alfred Hitchcock, David O Russell…) yet those stories have hardly marred their careers and tend to be just a footnote in the conversations around them. Yet the drama has dominated the discourse for this movie, and I think it will follow her forever.
    Lastly, I first became aware of her on The OC! She had a bit part for a few episodes, and I remember being awe struck by her beauty. She was also in House – a show I love and highly recommend if you ever get the time (if you ever watch it, keep in mind that it’s loosely based on Sherlock Holmes! I always loved searching for the parallels.)

    1. Haha, I know – when I got to the point where I was explaining “and THEN, there was an Instastory where Florence’s makeup artists had shirts on them that said “Ms. Flo–” where I realized I may be too far up the creek with no way back, as Mr. Magpie just looked puzzled. Interesting point about the gender dynamics at play here.

      xx

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