One of the more confounding products of Hollywood’s prerelease fog of war, Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling, has weathered twitter storms and killer-bee gossip only to land on the decidedly low end of critic esteem, charting just 37 percent fresh at Rotten Tomatoes on opening day, following months of exciting reports about the off-set antics of its beautiful actors.
While Don’t Worry Darling is only Wilde’s second full-length feature as a director following 2019’s Booksmart—which boasts an exceedingly rare 96 percent fresh score with critics—it enjoyed, and suffered, massive prerelease attention for reasons having nothing to do with the viewing experience.
First, Wilde was served child custody papers by an operative of her ex, Jason Sudeikis, while onstage introducing a sneak preview of the film at Las Vegas CinemaCon in April. Then there was Spit-gate, in which Chris Pine assured the world that Wilde’s new guy, Don’t Worry star Harry Styles, did not expectorate upon him when Pine sat between the pair at the Venice Film Festival screening of the picture.
And, of course, no one could forget the special contretemps between Wilde and (Stanislavsky) Method man Shia LaBeouf, with Wilde claiming she fired him from the film before filling the role with Styles, and the actor saying that’s not possible because he quit.
Unfortunately, with the reviews coming in, these misadventures may be all we ever hear of the work going forward.
Though the Tomato-meter is an imprecise metric of taste or quality—aggregating reviews from 3,000 “Tomato-Approved Critics”—and while 36 percent is better than the 14 percent earned by Gigi & Nate, the latter film costars a capuchin monkey, and reviewers’ pullquotes on the former are a glimpse at the collision of gossip-fueled hype and human viewer.
In a rare moment of harmony between New York’s rival papers, the New York Post’s Johnny Oleksinki says, “We’re a mile ahead of the plot by minute one, with 121 still to go” as the New York Times’ Manohla Dargis says Wilde “isn’t a strong enough filmmaker at this point to navigate around the story’s weaknesses, much less transcend them.”
The Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday diagnoses it as “not a disaster, but not particularly distinguished; a movie that, in the end, will wind up being as forgettable as its own bizarre publicity.”
Pursuing this point even further, Arizona Republic’s Bill Goodykoontz says it “isn’t so much a movie as a gossip-delivery system,” whereas RogerEbert.com’s Glenn Kenny counsels restraint, saying that “while Don’t Worry Darling isn’t THAT bad, it’s also not very good.”
Many other critics praised Florence Pugh’s performance in the lead as well, while some, like the Boston Globe’s Mark Feeney, waxes nearly red-pill in inverting other critics’ claims: “It doesn’t tell viewers anything they don’t already know,” he writes. “It does remind them of things they might prefer to ignore.”
And the winner of this week’s Faint Praise Award, Vulture’s Bilge Ibiri weighs in: “The film is smooth, competent, (mostly) well-acted, and merely tedious.”
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