If you have had access to social media in the past few months, then you’re more than likely aware of Don’t Worry Darling—or at least the drama that has been surrounding it from the moment it went into production. Olivia Wilde’s follow-up to Booksmart is one of the most highly anticipated movies of the year, though, increasingly, not for positive reasons. The buzz is mostly owed to the behind-the-scenes chaos that has been gossiped about and scrutinized for more than two years.
I’m not here to ramble about all of the things that have gone nightmarishly sideways with the film. (I have already done enough of that). Now that it’s finally in theaters, I want to take a moment to talk about Don’t Worry Darling’s most important player and saving grace: Its leading lady, the one and only Florence Pugh.
Huge crowds of his fans will undoubtedly be flocking to theaters to witness pop-superstar-turned-actor Harry Styles in his leading actor debut. On the other hand, I, like a true stan, am graciously taking myself to the nearest multiplex for the sole purpose of seeing Pugh—or as Wilde has referred to her, Miss Flo—do her damn thing.
Pugh is notably the strongest element of the movie, which centers on a seemingly happy young couple living in an idyllic corporate town circa the 1950s as secrets begin to get uncovered. The Daily Beast’s Marlow Stern praised the actress for being the most redeemable aspect of an otherwise messy movie, writing that it’s “more than anything a showcase for Pugh.” Indiewire’s Kate Erbland says that Pugh is the “film’s unmitigated highlight,” and Collider’s Brian Formo says that “none of Darling works at all without such a committed performance from Pugh.”
It’s hard to imagine anyone else in Alice’s shoes, even though Wilde initially considered playing the role herself in the film’s early stages, with Pugh being approached for a supporting role at first. That’s Pugh’s ultimate power: She makes every character feel as if they were crafted with her specifically in mind. Don’t Worry Darling fully depends on Pugh’s performance, and it’s the only thing keeping it afloat.
While speaking about Pugh’s work in the film earlier this year at CinemaCon, Wilde told executives that, with Don’t Worry Darling, audiences would be “witnessing the birth of a full-fledged movie star.” I would strongly argue that the BAFTA-nominated British actress has displayed all the signs of the perfect star since the beginning of her career.
Those of us familiar with her work and career know that she has clearly been Hollywood’s Next Big Thing from the moment she first graced the silver screen. To say that Don’t Worry Darling is the movie officially marking Pugh’s stardom seems uniformed and outrageous, given how many tour de force performances she has given in the past eight years.
She made her acting debut in 2014 with the coming-of-age thriller The Falling and has starred in a total of 11 feature films since (excluding those not yet released). In a short span of time, the 26-year-old has quickly established herself as one of cinema’s most respected, exciting, and sought-after actors.
It was with the film Lady Macbeth in 2016 that Pugh truly became one to watch. Only 19 when the film was shot, Pugh plays Katherine, a young woman who is sold into a loveless marriage with a man twice her age in the 19th century. When her husband goes out of town, she gets a taste of her newfound freedom. The movie slowly escalates in discomforting ways as the extreme lengths she will go to become completely free from her suffocating life become apparent.
Pugh is chilling in her portrayal of the titular character, subtly communicating every emotion using just her vacant eyes, whether it be anger and rage, or brief moments of passion and joy. Anyone who has seen this intense period drama knows that it’s impossible to look away from the screen whenever she’s on it.
If Lady Macbeth served as our introduction to her capabilities as an actress, then The Little Drummer Girl solidified Pugh as a full-blown star. In 2018, she had her first starring television role in an adaptation of John Le Carré’s famous novel. The AMC series flew criminally under the radar, despite boasting a cast that included Alexander Skarsgård and Michael Shannon and being helmed by South Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook. As someone who religiously watched live each week when it was airing, I can speak authoritatively to how excellent it—and she—is.
Pugh operates through the six-part series with confidence, playing an actress pretending to be someone she isn’t after being recruited to investigate a terrorist plot in the 1970s. The Little Drummer Girl completely hinges on Pugh’s complex performance, and it remains one of the greatest showcases of her versatility.
The next year was an explosive one for Pugh, with a near-flawless three-film run that ushered in her official reign as the internet’s It Girl and solidified her status as one of the best young working actors. First came Fighting with My Family, a WWE Studios production centering on Saraya-Jade “Paige” Bevis’s journey from being born into a wrestling family to her meteoric rise to fame within the company. It’s a fierce and heartwarming coming-of-age story that doubles as a rare comedic showcase for Pugh, who seamlessly fills Paige’s shoes and embodies her physicality and ambitious attitude.
Then came her summer domination with Midsommar, which has been talked about and memed ever since it hit theaters over three years ago. In Ari Aster’s vibrant fever dream of an A24 folk horror film, Pugh gives a masterful performance as Dani Andor, a twentysomething woman who visits a picturesque Swedish commune with her boyfriend and his pals, who all end up getting sucked into a Pagan cult. Here, Pugh makes for the perfect scream queen, as she tackles the nuances of Dani’s grief while balancing the film’s emotional intensity. No film has better displayed her top tier crying skills than Midsommar, and, for that, we are truly grateful: as significant a contribution to cinema as there’s ever been.
She concluded her killer 2019 streak with a bang, charming us all in Greta Gerwig’s delightful adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved 1868 novel Little Women as Amy March. The youngest March sister has long been disliked and misunderstood by readers and audiences, but Pugh brought humanity to the character that allowed us to find some room in our hearts to love and relate to her. While playing Amy both as a little kid aged 12 and as a grown-up is a challenge, to say the least, but Pugh managed to effortlessly pull it off. Paired with Gerwig’s beautiful script, she does justice to Amy, perfectly capturing her bratty, jealous, and spoiled personality while still keeping her grounded. It’s not difficult to see why Pugh scored her first Academy Award nomination for her stunning, scene-stealing turn.
If there’s one thing that indicates star power in our current entertainment climate, it’s being cast in a Marvel project, and Pugh checked that off her list a few years ago. She made her MCU debut in 2021’s Black Widow as Yelena Belova, who will take on the role of Black Widow in the recently announced Thunderbolts series, securing her place as a key part of the franchise’s future. We’ll soon also see her stepping into more blockbuster territory with Dune: Part 2, alongside fellow Hollywood darlings Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya.
The common thread between nearly all of her characters is that they tend to be women in distress or women who feel that they have something to prove. Whether it be in Lady Macbeth, Little Women, Black Widow, or Don’t Worry Darling, she infuses every role with depth and charisma, turning them into fully realized people who resonate and connect with us.
Florence Pugh had been a star and leading lady long before Don’t Worry Darling came around, and she’ll surely survive (and, obviously thrive after) the hurricane of bad press that’s surrounded the film. One thing will always ring true: she will be captivating audiences for decades to come, and I’ll always be headed to the nearest movie theater on opening night in support, even if it means having to endure a Zach Braff-helmed movie as a result.