I went to see “Don’t Worry Darling” the other day and… I have mixed feelings.
Going in, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. I’d seen articles about the film getting a several-minutes-long standing ovation at the premiere, but I’d also seen tons of people online saying it was an absolute waste of time. The drama surrounding the film surely didn’t help.
If you don’t know what “the drama” is, there is simply too much to summarize here, but it’s relevant to know that a big part of it revolved around the surprise casting of pop star, Harry Styles, as the male lead, and his rumored relationship with director, Olivia Wilde.
Before the film came out, everyone was curious about Styles’ casting: was he going to be any good? Surely, Wilde knew better than just casting her supposed boyfriend just because he’s pretty?
People held out hope for Styles’ triumphant lead debut, but once an official clip dropped, showing what appeared to be a very dramatic scene between Jack and Alice (Styles and Pugh), Styles’ awkward delivery began to look worrying.
The internet was ablaze with arguments for why this was the worst acting they had ever seen vs those trying to explain why his acting was actually secretly genius. Most people tentatively sat back and decided to withhold judgement until they got to see the film. I was one of those people.
But now it’s time to share opinions.
The film is fine
Despite all the crazy discourse, I left the cinema feeling a normal amount of satisfaction. To phrase that a bit better; it’s fine. It’s entertaining and very visually beautiful.
There is some insane talent in this film: Christ Pine, Gemma Chan, several of the smaller characters and of course the beautiful and amazing Florence Pugh, all bring their absolute A-game here.
Regarding Styles: is this “the worst acting to ever be put to screen”? No, absolutely not. Styles manages to hold his own in a lot of scenes; he is very endearing and sweet in the smaller moments where he banters back and forth with the other men. Styles is a charming man, and he plays a charming man well. However, as we saw in the preview clip, he does struggle with the dramatic moments.
His inexperience is only made more obvious when you have him opposite Oscar nominee and award-winning actress Florence Pugh. Like I said, his performance isn’t bad, but it seems almost unfair to put him in a film like this.
Considering that this is only his second ever film, it’s not bad. Certainly not, but it’s not great either. And for a star-studded, high budget film like this, the question then becomes, why was he cast?
Stunt casting refers to when someone is cast essentially for the sake of publicity. Often, this term refers to random famous people who are cast in the hopes of attracting attention to the project from their fanbase. However, stunt casting isn’t always influencers and musicians with no prior experience.
When Brad Pitt appeared in “Friends” as the head of the “I Hate Rachel” club, he wasn’t cast for his comedic acting abilities; Pitt and Aniston were married at the time, so having them appear on screen together guaranteed the episode more media attention than it would have gotten with anyone else in the role.
In 2019th “Little Women”, the casting of Emma Watson also had more thought behind it: as known feminist and head of the HeForShe campaign, Watson’s face gave the film some authority of truly being for women and about women, and, of course, having a former Harry Potter star also guarantees attention from nostalgic millennials.
Stunt casting also extends into the theater world where productions sometimes cast big names in smaller roles to boost sales. The musical “Waitress” has been known to do this: the Broadway production saw YouTubers Colleen Ballinger and Todrick Hall play side characters for a limited run. In the West End, YouTuber Joe Sugg also took on a run in Waitress, but while Ballinger and Hall have prior musical theater experience, Sugg didn’t.
Regardless, all 3 of these casting choices were seen as stunt casting, which is something many theater fans dislike: “why not cast actors who have trained their whole lives for this? People who deserve it?”
I think it’s a bit more complicated than that. Finding new ways to grab audiences’ attention can be hard for long running productions and TV shows, so sometimes, great acting and high quality isn’t enough. Casting a famous influencer in your musical guarantees a certain number of extra sales, and the production certainly gains much more exposure with younger generations online.
In this way, Harry Styles has guaranteed exposure for “Don’t Worry Darling” in areas and contexts that the film likely wouldn’t have reached without him. However, while I understand that stunt casting puts butts in seats that might’ve otherwise been empty, I am genuinely a bit confused about why anyone would think that a film like “Don’t Worry Darling” wouldn’t be able to fill out those seats even without Styles?
Are you telling me that all-rounder Chris Pine and dramatic/comedic darling Florence Pugh wasn’t enough to sell tickets for the highly anticipated second film from the director of the critically acclaimed “Booksmart”? I just find that hard to believe.
The power of fame
Styles is possibly the biggest pop star right now, and his impact on the ticket sales was obvious to me when I went: the theater was full of girls in their teens – early twenties, some even wore Harry Styles merchandise, and the cinema was almost completely full.
But I can’t help but wonder: would the cinema have been equally full without Harry? Has his casting and the crazy drama perhaps deterred movie lovers from seeing the film?
Unlike musicals and TV shows, movies don’t go on for years and years: they release, they’re watched, and then they become available to the public. For movies, the most important thing is to build up anticipation by giving people a reason to talk about the film.
“Don’t Worry Darling” surely managed this in many ways. Personally, I would have watched this movie just for Pugh, but I’m well aware that many have gone for Styles. I’ve heard of people going because of the drama – it made then curious. I’ve heard people say they want to watch it simply to know whether Styles is actually bad or not. Not because they have any interest in him, but because the online discourse once again made them curious. Whether people going “for the drama” is good or not, my guess is that it’s probably profitable regardless.
Did he get the role based on his acting or his name? I can’t say for sure. Like I said before, his performance is neither awful nor particularly great, and I could definitely name a few actors I could see do an absolutely amazing job. On the other hand, I can’t completely rule out that, although I neither love nor dislike Styles, he’s certainly a familiar face, and having to mentally convince myself that I’m not just watching Harry Styles make out with Florence Pugh could impact the way I view his performance.
At the end of the day butts are being placed in cinema seats; the film is being discussed, and only time will tell whether it will be deemed a success or a flop.