Sure, the leads are charming, and I can’t deny Beatty’s legacy, but…what did I just watch?
Rules Don’t Apply is clearly a passion project of Warren Beatty’s, who directs and stars in this film. Set in the late 1950’s, Beatty plays the bizarre, eccentric, and child-like Howard Hughes – yes, the famous movie producer and aviator – who is constantly on the lookout for young, fresh acting talent (read: pretty girls). Enter Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins) the devout Baptist beauty queen from Virgina, who, together with her mother, Lucy (Annette Benning) take a chance on Hollywood in the hopes of Marla landing a big part in one of his films.
Per Hughes, Marla gets her own home overlooking Hollywood, and a $400-per week stipend. She’s also got her own driver, Methodist Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich) to get her where she needs to go. Marla and Frank become quite close, and, clearly, have to work to stave off any kind of romantic relationship, namely at the behest of Hughes.
This film has been touted by Fox as an Oscar contender, but, unless I’m missing something, I don’t find it to be anything more than a semi-charming trudge down memory lane. Where its trailers were clean cut and had promise, this movie seems to slip out of that. Most of the first half is slow, and sometimes confusing – although I’m pretty convinced this was a deliberate technique used to mirror Hughes’s behaviour in this film. One minute he’s hanging out with Frank at a dock, eating a burger and “talking” to his plane, the next minute, he’s getting all hopped up about the possible loss of his aviation company, and yelling for banana nut ice cream. My attempts at following the movie felt the same: sometimes I didn’t know what was going on. Yes, I know Marla wants to give a film career a shot. Yes, I know Frank has aspirations of his own, which includes partnering with Hughes to start a housing project. Yeah, I know Hughes is bonkers – but sometimes this film becomes such a victim of its own devices getting to the major points in the narrative.
Depending on which character we’re looking at, the acting is okay. I like Ehrenreich and Collins together; they definitely work. Beatty as Hughes for me was essentially Beatty PLAYING Hughes; I didn’t really see much value in him taking on this character. The only exception to this I think, is how funny Beatty can be…sometimes. (The aforementioned plane scene was actually one of my favourites in this film.) Matthew Broderick’s character is another one of Hughes’s assistants in the film, and he comes across more pathetic than anything else (he’s one I really thought would be pretty funny – I found him quite boring). I could see Lily Collins getting some accolades for her performance, but I’m not as enthralled as I expected I would be. She’s not a terrible singer, either.
This movie isn’t the worst thing I’ve seen all year, and I think the story’s relatability factor is something that carries pretty good weight when it comes to trying to score this film. Everyone can relate to that roller coaster of excitement/disappointment they go through when they’re trying out for something, applying for their first job – or just trying to impress someone on a first date.
Ultimately, this movie plays out as just another example by which someone is so desperate to make something work for the big screen, because they’re in love with an idea that might seem really smart in their mind…but doesn’t completely work.
Three repurposed Warren Beattys out of five.