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Did Harry Styles really just spit on Chris Pine?

A viral video of the Don’t Worry Darling stars made ‘Zapruder’ trend, as internet-friendly beef overshadows one of the fall’s big releases

At a galmorous premiere screening, Harry Styles, in a blue suit, leans over a seated Chris Pine, who is applauding. It looks like Styles might be spitting. Image: Venice Film Festival

On the evening on Monday, Sept. 5, 2022, the internet wanted to know one thing and one thing only: Did Harry Styles really just spit on Chris Pine?

No matter how many times people replay the footage, the truth may never come to light. But there’s another question that we might be able to get to the bottom of: Why would anyone think he did?

Styles and Pine are currently promoting their new film, Don’t Worry Darling, directed by Olivia Wilde (Booksmart) and co-starring Midsommar’s Florence Pugh. The production has been at the center of of a firestorm of celebrity gossip for over a year, culminating in yesterday’s premiere at the Venice Film Festival, which produced this murky-but-extraordinary piece of footage:

Taking his seat next to Pine to watch the film, Styles bends briefly over his co-star. Pine freezes mid-clap and looks down at his lap, as if something just landed there, or perhaps on his shoe. He smiles and shakes his head slightly, as if in disbelief, before making eye contact with Styles. Both stay smiling.

It’s a mesmerizing clip that has all of Twitter freezing, zooming, and enhancing in search of some unknowable truth. Does Styles purse his lips and jerk his head forward, infinitesimally? Maybe. On the other hand, is Pine just looking down to pick up the spectacles he’s dropped on his seat? Could be. It’s really Pine’s reaction that sells it, plus the incongruous, summery glamor of the setting: Wilde’s cascading lemon-yellow dress on the left of the frame, Styles’ electric-blue suit and extravagant shirt lapels on the right, Pine’s country-club bow tie and sockless ankles caught between them.

Here’s another angle that’s no more conclusive, although it does run a little longer, and shows the two men appearing to exchange words in a friendly enough manner after the alleged incident.

To understand what’s behind the frenzy over the clip, however, you have to take in the context: the whole, tortured, gossipy saga of Don’t Worry Darling, which guaranteed that footage of the film’s stars at its premiere was going to be pored over, and body language analyzed to within an inch of its life. This wasn’t even the first Pine-and-Styles meme of the day.

Here’s a short-ish recap:

  • Wilde reportedly began dating Styles during production, around the time she split from her partner Jason Sudeikis (Ted Lasso), with whom she has two children. Wilde and Styles are said to still be in a relationship, but haven’t gone public at any stage.
  • Wilde was served with legal papers from Sudeikis pertaining to custody of her children while she was on stage at Las Vegas trade show CinemaCon, presenting Don’t Worry Darling. This isn’t necessarily relevant to the cast drama, but it’s still incredible that it happened.
  • In a recent Variety profile, Wilde claimed that she had fired troubled actor Shia LaBeouf (who is facing assault charges from his ex, the singer FKA Twigs) from the film and replaced him with Styles. LaBeouf immediately disagreed, saying he had quit the production.
  • Speculation of a rift between Pugh and Wilde has been rife, fueled by an apparent lack of enthusiasm on Pugh’s part for promoting the film. There are rumors that Pugh took issue with Wilde and Styles’ on-set relationship.
  • Pugh did not attend the Venice press conference for Don’t Worry Darling, officially due to a scheduling clash with the shoot for Dune: Part 2. She made a splashy entrance to the festival minutes later, but did not do any interviews.
  • In a much-memed moment, Pine adopted a thousand-yard stare during Styles’ answers at the press conference.
  • In his own comments, Pine was full of praise for Pugh, whom he was also seen photographing adoringly, but he didn’t make much mention of Wilde or Styles.
  • Wilde, Styles and Pugh all appeared to take pains not to be photographed next to each other at Venice, often leaving Pine and co-star Gemma Chan to act as human buffers
  • In the midst of all this, reviews for the film were posted, and were decidedly mixed.

With all this gossip flying around, and almost none of it addressed on the record by the people involved, interest in the public appearance of the cast in Venice was intense. The irony is that Pine, a relative bystander who had kept his nose clean of controversy throughout, found himself in the eye of the storm, and as the main focus of Monday’s imagery.

What could have motivated Styles to disrespect his fellow actor so? Some speculate the younger star had been offended by Pine’s eye-rolling at the press conference, others that his nose was put out of joint by Pine’s apparent siding with Pugh in the still-apocryphal feud with Wilde.

We will probably never know. From the alleged expectorant in Venice to the purported on-set romance that started it all, absolutely none of the Don’t Worry Darling scandal is substantiated. Amid this storm of fascinating, exasperating nothingness, we are all Chris Pine: disassociating blankly amid the noise, or laughing ruefully at the mess that’s just been dumped in our lap.

The film itself has been completely overshadowed in all this (although there’s a school of thought that its box office will benefit — there’s no such thing as bad publicity, after all). In a couple of weeks, we’ll be able to judge it on its own terms, and for some — certainly its publicists, and possibly Chris Pine — that will come as a blessed relief.

Don’t Worry Darling will be released in theaters on Sept. 23.

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