If Olivia Wilde were a man

eeven before anyone has seen the latest trailer for Olivia Wilde second film as director, retro fantasy Don’t worry, honey, rumors spread that one of its stars, Florence Pugh, came to despise Wilde. Pugh has done minimal press for the film, so even if her silence could be read as an attempt to distance herself from the project, we don’t know what she’s really thinking. Speculation is that she is angry with Wilde because he initially forced her to work with controversial actor Shia LaBeouf, who has admitted to being a pattern of violence in his personal life. (LaBeouf was subsequently fired from the film or left voluntarily, depending on which story you believe.) Then according to reports — though who can cite a solid source? – Pugh felt that the romance between Wilde and the actor she chose to replace LaBeouf, Harry Styles, had poisoned the atmosphere on the set. After the full Don’t worry, honey trailer dropped, the social media world went up in flames like a munitions factory in July, with film pundits and even critics – who should know better – claiming that the film, now considered a “problem production”, looks terrible. The phrase “Worry baby”, not even that funny the first time, quickly wore out its welcome as a meme. When the film premiered in Venice on September 5, reviews were mixed to negative.

Gossip can haunt any film in the run-up to its release, but no film in recent memory has attracted so much speculative venom. Over the whole mess hangs a radioactive cloud of question: Would it have turned out this way if Wilde had been a man?

Men run “problem productions” all the time: see Marc Forster World War Zof James Cameron Titanic, and anything by Terry Gilliam. And many male directors – such as Cameron, Steven Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick – have become romantically involved with their stars. Chaos, discord or disorganization on set? Women didn’t invent it. It is true that Wilde is not always diplomatic: she claims, in Interview magazine that being in a lot of “really bad” movies has taught her what not to do as a director. So what? Subconsciously or otherwise, we’ve become heavily invested in the idea of ​​the female director as a “nice” person, even as we cling to our reverence for old-school tyrants like Otto Preminger or John Ford who ran over their actors to get the job done . No director is allowed to be a jerk, but Wilde has been vocal enough about her desire to foster an egalitarian environment on set to suggest she’s at least somewhat self-aware.

Wilde does come off as a bit smooth. Her responses and digressions feel polished to the extreme, and there’s a feline quality to the way, in a video leaked by LaBeouf, we see her refer to Pugh as “Miss Flo,” with a faintly mocking edge to her voice. But while no one but those involved knows what happened on the set of her film, she already has more than a few strikes against her in the social media kangaroo court. Only her aspirations seem to annoy people. In late August, Wilde spoke to the AP for the bidding war that swirled around Don’t worry, honey in 2019 and why she chose New Line and Warner Bros. “We had several studios and streamers who wanted to make this movie, and I sat down with all of them and said, ‘The road I see leads us to Venice. Who among you understands what kind of movie we’re making about this dream?” The “road to Venice” remark certainly sounds arrogant. But then, shake any Hollywood palm and hundreds of overconfident male directors will fall. Ambition is admirable in a man. So why is it that when a female director talks about pitching a film at a major festival, we think she’s overreacting?

Although not all public relations challenge to Don’t worry, honey can be traced directly to sexism, the charade raises questions about how we think women should behave in the public sphere. A possible feud, even a silent one, between a movie star and an up-and-coming director (especially one who also appears and produces the film)? None of us are above having at least a little curiosity about it. And even if some have invested too much in all possible Don’t worry, honey scandal — especially those obsessed with footage of Styles allegedly but absolutely not spitting on the costar Chris Pine at the premiere in Venice – the film’s background offers at least a little novelty. A famous romance between a smart, successful 38-year-old woman and a bold, captivating pop star 10 years her junior? How often does this happen?

Movie buffs who shoot at Don’t worry, honey being terrible can leave you disappointed. The film is neither a disaster nor a masterpiece. The performances are good, especially Pugh’s – if she was unhappy on set, it doesn’t show in the film.

There’s also a sizzling sex scene that focuses squarely on female pleasure, instead of the standard groping and thrusting that, oddly enough, characterized most mainstream movie sex scenes from the heyday of the erotic thriller in the 80s and 90s. (Sensual sex scenes are exceedingly rare in Hollywood movies these days.) And that, too, can count against Wilde. We claim to respect sexually confident women. But Wilde is mom! One who, unfortunately for all involved, is embroiled in a highly publicized child custody case with her ex-partner Jason Sudeikis. Rumor has it that she and Styles may have started their affair before she and Sudeikis officially split. Modern women need to be sexy, hot and determined, the Instagram way. The way in real life, with its inevitable messiness, is another story.

This kind of moralism is as ugly now as it was 75 years ago. The extramarital affair between Italian director Roberto Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman was one of the great scandals of the time, not least because the two had an illegitimate child, Renato Roberto Rossellini. The relationship hurt Bergman’s career far more than Rossellini’s. “The best thing you can do is overdose on sleeping pills. It would please Robbie and everyone else,” wrote one fan in 1950, feeling betrayed that the real Bergman did not meet his standards of what a woman should be. We often say the internet has made us uglier, but the seeds were there all along.

As for Wilde, she’s discovering what it’s like to be a woman in Hollywood who knows what she wants and goes out of her way to get it. She also discovers how many people believe they have a say in what goes on in her bedroom. Wilde is either an insidious shrewdness or a shrewd orchestrator of the type of publicity money can’t buy. Or maybe he’s just a director who wanted to make a movie.

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