Students rush to see ‘Don’t Worry Darling’ at Princeton Garden Theater after media controversy
Princeton students flocked to the Garden Theater this weekend in numbers unmatched by any other screening this year to see the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) Film Committee screenings of “Don’t Worry Darling.”
The film was directed by Olivia Wilde and stars Harry Styles and Florence Pugh in the lead roles. In recent months, controversies over the film’s production have drawn media attention.
Performances of “Don’t Worry Darling” at the Garden Theater were among the largest appearances in the committee’s history. On Friday, the theater screened the film on a single screen and reached full capacity, with 180 students in the audience. USG film committee member Will Rehm ’24 reported that the theater doors were closed at 9:45 p.m. and more than 50 students had to be turned away.
That popularity didn’t wane for the film’s second night: the Saturday night show had around 230 students on two screens, as the theater adjusted to high demand. According to fellow committee member Charlie Roth ’25, a fall 2021 screening of “Dune” was the only other USG-sponsored title to surpass 200 attendees since 2019.
Roth is a news writer and data editor for the “Prince”.
Chris Collier, the theater’s executive director, noted that while the type of student participation attracted by “Don’t Worry Darling” is rare, it’s not entirely unprecedented. He referred to last March’s screening of “The Batman” as another “big hit” and recalled that when the theater showed “La La Land” several years ago, the property’s two theaters were completed three consecutive nights.
Collier attributed the success of these films to big budgets and Oscar buzz. However, film committee head Addele Hargenrader ’24 said students were particularly drawn to “Don’t Worry Darling” for different reasons.
The psychological thriller was first embroiled in scandal when a source revealed to People that Wilde initiated an extramarital affair with Styles on set. Later scandals included allegations that Styles spat on Chris Pine at the film’s premiere, public disagreements between Shia LaBoeuf (who was originally cast as Styles’ character) and Wilde over the circumstances of his departure from the production and Pugh’s absence from press events.
Hargenrader shared that the film committee had been receiving student requests for “Don’t Worry Darling” for months.
Despite mixed reviews from critics, the film collected $19 million in its opening weekend in North American theaters.
“I 100% think people show up because of the controversy,” Hargenrader said.
Hannah Gabelnick ’26, who attended the Friday night screening, said she wanted to see the film after following the drama surrounding it online. She recalled seeing a TikTok that criticized Wilde’s statement that the film was about “female pleasure” given the non-consensual sex scenes featured.
“TikTok comments were saying don’t watch this movie,” she said, “and I wanted to see what the fuss was about.”
Hargenrader echoed Gabelnick’s sentiments on the quality of the film itself.
“From what I’ve heard and what the members have heard — reading the reviews and all that — the movie isn’t very good,” Hargenrader said.
Shravan Suriyanarayanan ’26, who attended the Friday night screening, criticized the acting in the film.
“If there was a different actor for Harry [Styles]it would have been better,” he said.
Audience reactions at the screening reflected similarly negative judgments of the film. During the Friday and Saturday night performances, students in attendance reported peals of laughter from the audience during some of the thriller’s most dramatic and serious scenes.
The USG Movie Committee hosts screenings every Friday and Saturday at the Garden Theater as well as outdoor movies every two weeks. Its budget for the fall 2022 semester is $22,000.
Tess Weinreich is an associate news editor and feature contributor for The Prince. She can be contacted at [email protected]
Nandini Krishnan is a news contributor for ‘The Prince’. She can be contacted at [email protected]