The Washington Post

Did Harry Styles spit on Chris Pine? Only in fan fiction.

- MOLLY ROBERTS

The first thing to say is: Bear with me. This is a tale so strange and twisting, it seems straight out of a movie. Which, in a way, it is. “Don’t Worry Darling” doesn’t hit theaters until the end of the month, but it debuted at the Venice Film Festival this week. And the real story there, as it turned out, wasn’t about the characters in the film — but instead about the people who filmed it.

The barest-bones version of events starts with director Olivia Wilde and female lead Florence Pugh having a falling out and ends with Harry Styles spitting on Chris Pine. ( Well, maybe.) How this purported rift formed is unclear: Perhaps it had to do with Shia Labeouf, originally slated to star opposite Pugh. Depending on whom you ask, he either was fired or quit. But he later leaked a video message from Wilde seeming to blame “Miss Flo” for on-set conflict. Perhaps it had to do with Wilde and Styles beginning to date during production.

Perhaps no rift ever formed at all, and these morsels of informatio­n sent admirers of the involved celebritie­s salivating for more drama — to the point that they decided to make it themselves.

Certainly, this was the case on Monday night. After months of rumormonge­ring, it was time for the denouement. Hollywood watched the movie, while Twitter watched the actors. A news conference sans Pugh, where Wilde waved mentions of a feud away without explicitly denying it. What? Pugh strolling, smiling and sipping a spritz after her plane landed with the event already underway. Why? Wilde and Styles keeping their distance on the red carpet. Since when?

Pugh and Wilde were placed so far apart from each other at the premiere that one observer compared the arrangemen­t to “a wedding with divorced parents.” And throughout a minutes-long standing ovation for the movie, the two women made eye contact only once.

Finally, the supposed spit. Styles walks to his seat, lowers himself with his head turned toward Pine and purses his lips. Pine immediatel­y looks to his lap in pronounced bemusement. The video of this moment has become a sort of 21st-century Zapruder film — dissected to death this time not by any official investigat­ory commission but rather by seemingly every single person on the internet: Look just there, in slow motion this time, with the quality enhanced. If you want to see it, you can’t miss it.

The idea that Styles spat is, to put it simply, nuts. Pine’s representa­tive calls it “a complete fabricatio­n.” Yet that matters only if you’re living in the normal world.

The problem is, many of those who’ve now propelled the “Don’t Worry Darling” cast’s personal affairs into virality are living instead in the realm of fandom. There, every action of every chosen celebrity must be meaningful, and more than that it must be coherent — a plot point in the stories of their days, weeks and years, which followers rather than the stars themselves get to write.

Read this way, the spit isn’t absurd. The spit is necessary. The pressure has been building and building on Styles, Pine and everyone around them. Something, eventually, had to snap. That’s how it always happens, after all, sometime in the second act. We watched a similarly thrilling pre-movie plot when Brad and Angelina got together in “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.” But 2005’s tabloids were only a rudimentar­y prototype of the internet-age content mill powered by millions upon millions of participan­ts, every one with a platform. Storytelli­ng is more democratic than ever before.

Is that a good thing? The writers, producers, director and actors of “Don’t Worry Darling” would probably like their movie not only to be watched but also to be thought about. They’d probably prefer magazine spreads on its feminist themes to Twitter threads on Pugh’s negative body language. The energy, now, is getting devoted not to the opus they’ve so carefully put together but to the real-life messiness along the way — cleaned up just enough for it to constitute a compelling narrative.

We don’t know yet what the offscreen drama will do to the on-screen “Don’t Worry Darling.” Maybe boxoffice numbers will boom, thanks to the extra intrigue, or maybe would-be viewers will figure what they’ve seen so far is as intriguing as it gets. Maybe the numbers aren’t the point, and what matters is whether people are able to watch the film for what it is — or whether they’ll only be able to see Pugh instead of Alice Chambers or Styles instead of her husband, Jack.

Or maybe we, too, should forget the characters and think about their fleshand-blood portrayers. What does telling these tales do to them and their relationsh­ips? The credits on their lives didn’t roll after the Venice Film Festival, even if that supposed spitting incident was an awfully effective climax.

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