RULES DON'T APPLY ½
2016, PG-13, 127 mins.
Warren Beatty as Howard Hughes / Lily Collins as Marla Mabrey / Alden Ehrenreich as Frank Forbes / Annette Bening as Lucy Mabrey / Matthew Broderick as Levar Mathis / Alec Baldwin as Bob Maheu / Haley Bennett as Mamie / Taissa Farmiga as Sarah Bransford / Martin Sheen as Noah Dietrich / Oliver Platt as Forester / Candice Bergen as Nadine Henly
Directed by Warren Beatty / Written by Beatty and Bo Goldman
When Warren Beatty stars in and directs a movie it's kind of a big deal...almost an event in itself.
This is made
especially true considering that his creative output over the years has
been anything but prolific.
RULES DON'T APPLY not only represents the Hollywood legend's first
movie role since 2001's TOWN AND COUNTRY, but it's also his first film
behind the camera in nearly two decades, his last effort being the 1998
political satire BULWORTH.
Beyond that film, BUGSY and DICK TRACY, Beatty has only directed
three films in the last 26 years.
he makes a film it's an event.
APPLY, at a cursory glance, is a period film set in the 1960's concerning
the life and times of Howard Hughes (Beatty has been so fixated with him
that making some sort of biopic has dogged him for several decades).
Yet, Beatty's screenplay here (co-written by Oscar winner Bo
Goldman) is not an all encompassing chronicle of Hughes' life, nor is it
even ostensibly about the enigmatic aviator and filmmaker.
Hughes casts a rather large shadow in RULES DON'T APPLY, but the
film is really a budding romance between two lost souls that find their
lives inexplicably intertwined through their very relationship with
many ways, that's a most refreshing approach to dealing with Hughes in a
film, but it also unfortunately typifies one of the damning problems that
hurts RULES DON'T APPLY: More often than not, the film's
overall focus is scattershot, leaving Beatty trying as he can to make
sense of it all.
The film is
bookended in the present, so to speak, with the middle sections forming an
elaborate flashback that helps to explain all of the story particulars.
The flashback chuck of the story begins in the late 50's as we're
introduced to a Virginia beauty queen named Marla Mabrey (Lilly Collins,
radiant and poised) that has arrived in L.A. with her ultra conservative
mother (Annette Benig) to take part in a lucrative screen test for the
increasingly reclusive Howard Hughes (Beatty).
Marla soon learns that actually meeting the producer icon will be
no easy feat.
That, and she soon learns that she is but many women that he has
personally flown into the City of Angels and set up with luxurious lodgings to prep them for the possibility of a glamorous movie life.
Marla is predictably frustrated at her initial lack of progress,
but she's nevertheless content, seeing as Hughes has provided everything at
her disposal, including a daily chauffeur in the form of Frank Forbes
(Alden Ehrenreich), a young ambitious businessman that works for Hughes to
make ends meet.
Frank is given a
strict set of rules that he must abide by while driving Marla around, most
important of which is to not engage in any hanky panky with her...at all.
Despite these occupational conditions, Marla and Frank develop a
fondness for one another and have one thing in common: neither have
actually had a face-to-face meeting with their ultra mysterious boss.
Fate does step in when Marla is granted a very, very peculiar
screen test with Hughes under highly secretive and guarded circumstances,
during which time he's revealed as a man with a serious screw loose.
Nevertheless, Marla is ecstatic over her meeting, as is Frank with his own face time with Hughes, who decides to make him
figure into his day to day operations on a more intimate level.
Unfortunately for both Frank and Marla, they both begin to notice that Hughes is, in fact, a highly unstable man with clear cut
psychological issues, which negatively begins to cause their own
relationship to take a tailspin for the worse.
Again, one thing
that I admire about RULES DON'T APPLY is its audacity to not just be about
If anything, he remains a shadowy fringe figure throughout the
film's first 20-30 minutes, which allows the story to hone in on the
character dynamics and fledging romance between Frank and Marla.
Beatty's film is a Howard Hughes film that doesn't have much of
Howard Hughes in the opening sections and this makes his reveal
later on carry a larger dramatic magnitude.
That's not to say that Beatty is not fascinated with Hughes because
of his limited screen time in the opening stages.
No, Beatty manages to capture the scope of the man's wealth and
power by simply having characters talk about him.
When he does appear he's clearly a chronic agoraphobe and suffering
from the ravages of obsessive compulsive disorder, which leaves everyone -
Marla and Frank specifically - re-evaluating a man they once considered with a
near mythic stature.
In many ways, RULES DON'T APPLY doesn't feel slavish to the
standard troupes of obligatory biopics and finds a unique manner of
bringing Hughes to life without engaging in a lot of monotonous
between Frank and Marla is an intriguingly complex one.
She's a devout Baptist and he's an equally faithful Methodist, but
both become caught in the crosshairs of Hughes' rather domineering
intrusion in their respective lives and hopes for the future.
I've never been fully enamored with Lilly Collins as an actress
and none of her past films have warranted a change in opinion (like MIRROR,
MIRROR and THE
MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES), but she's so strongly
assured and authentic here and confidently holds her own in many key and memorable scenes
with Beatty himself, which is no easy task.
Alden Ehrenreich (the future young Han Solo in the upcoming STAR
WARS standalone film) has a young matinee idol quality that serves
this film's period well (think Harrison Ford meets James Dean), but he
also gives a richly textured performance as Frank and has ample chemistry
with Collins throughout.
RULES DON'T APPLY is also littered with supporting performances and
cameos by a relative who's who of Hollywood heavyweights (including
Matthew Broderick, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin,
Oliver Platt, Ed Harris, and Candice Bergen, just to name a few),
all that turn out fairly stellar work in the somewhat marginalized roles that
many of them have.
Then, of course,
there's Beatty himself, and it's a most welcoming sight to witness him
successfully return to the silver screen after such an unpardonably long
At nearly 80-years-old (a bit too old to play then Hughes in his
sixties), Beatty remains a commandingly handsome presence on screen and
displays the old performance twinkle in his eyes here that proves why he's
still an authoritative movie star.
It could easily be said that Beatty's Herculean stature in
Hollywood history somewhat stymies the effectiveness of the young actors
around him here (like Hughes, Beatty also casts a large shadow over
everyone in the film), but he captures Hughes' cockiness, flamboyance,
and ultimately fractured from reality mindset that makes RULES DON'T APPLY
endlessly watchable every time he appears.
Beatty's Hughes is flashier than I expected, but remains a figure
steeped in melancholic loneliness that surrounds himself with yes men that
seem to all but refuse to acknowledge his need for psychiatric care.
Beatty the writer/director doesn't work as well as Beatty the star here.
Firstly, RULES DON'T APPLY has several key sequences that use
beyond-obvious stock footage for establishing shots, which I'm not sure
has something to do with Beatty wanting to approximate how movies were
shot in his story's period in question or whether it's because he had
limited resources and a minuscule budget.
His editing in the film too is a real hatchet job, with many scenes
feeling like they're abruptly cut before they have a chance to thoroughly end
because he seems to be in a unstoppable rush to get to the next
The manner that the film hop scotches from scene to scene -
sometimes without rhyme or reason - creates a real jarring narrative
Beyond its clumsy and rushed editorial approach, RULES DON'T APPLY
has an identity disorder in the sense that it's simply trying to do too
is this film really about?
Frank's toxic work relationship with Hughes?
Frank's equally problematic relationship with Marla?
Marla's quest for Hollywood domination and her strained ties to
desperate attempts to ward off TWA Airlines, Hollywood, and the federal
government as a whole from taking over his business ventures due to his
mentally unfit stature?
RULES DON'T APPLY tries to be all of these things at once, often to
There's so much
to appreciate in this film, like, yes, the fact that we get to see Beatty act again.
That's beyond fantastic.
RULES DON'T APPLY also has individual character moments of dramatic
and comedic brilliance that features many talented actors chew through
their agreeably snappy dialogue that's a pleasure to behold.
Collins and Erenreich are limitlessly appealing as a couple here
I can't in good conscience recommend this film, seeing as the sum of its
great beats that do work don't make for an engaging and satisfying whole.
RULES DON'T APPLY is an unmitigated mess at times that
paradoxically is hypnotically fascinating, but it's ultimately a very
rough, misshapen, and distractingly imperfect effort from Beatty that
perhaps could have benefited from a multi-part HBO miniseries treatment
instead of being jammed into the confines of a two hour film.
RULES DON'T APPLY certainly breaks many filmmaking rules as far as
conventional biopics go, but it lacks creative discipline in the process.