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?
+On finding a tranquil frame of mind.
+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.
+LOVE this mini skirt for fall.
+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!