RULES DON’T APPLY (USA/12A/127mins)
Directed by Warren Beatty. Starring Lily Collins, Warren Beatty, Alden Ehrenreich, Matthew Broderick, Martin Sheen.
THE PLOT: In 1959, Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins) comes to LA to be an actress under contract to movie and aviation mogul Howard Hughes (Warren Beatty). Marla initially falls for her driver, a young man named Frank (Alden Ehrenreich) who is expressly forbidden from having dalliances with any of the contracted actresses. When Marla finally meets the reclusive Hughes, however, her relationship with the eccentric billionaire takes an unexpected turn.
THE VERDICT: Director and writer Warren Beatty has wanted to make a film about Howard Hughes for over forty years, after seeing Hughes in a hotel lobby and becoming fascinated with him. Although there are elements of truth to ‘Rules Don’t Apply’, it is difficult to tell where truth and fiction meet, and just what story Beatty is trying to tell.
‘Rules Don’t Apply’ has a stellar cast, including Oliver Platt, Alec Baldwin, Matthew Broderick, Annette Bening, Martin Sheen, Steve Coogan, Paul Schneider and Ed Harris in supporting roles, with Warren Beatty taking on the role of reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes. Beatty looks little like Hughes, and although he tries to get Hughes’ eccentricities right, they come off as the whims of a powerful man and thoughtlessness, rather than any kind of illness. Alden Ehrenreich as Frank, is a little wishy washy. While Ehrenreich has the right look for the time period, he constantly struggles against a strange script and choppy editing, never managing to make his character feel truly real. The same goes for Lily Collins as Marla Mabry, who has a certain charm to her, but lacks the charm that the film seems to think she has.
Warren Beatty’s screenplay makes sure to include real events throughout ‘Rules Don’t Apply’, such as the loan of $205,000 to Richard Nixon’s brother Donald, his hermit-like life in Las Vegas and the Beverly Hills Hotel, and in particular, the memoir hoax by Clifford Irving – renamed Richard Miskin for the sake of this film. It is hard to tell how much of the remaining story is based on truth, and it is very difficult to find a throughline in the story to grasp onto, since the film is as choppy and messy as it seems that Hughes’ mental state was toward the end of his life. There are potentially three stories running through ‘Rules Don’t Apply’; the potential affair between a younger actress and the older billionaire, the love triangle between Hughes, Frank and Marla, and the legal and money troubles faced by Hughes toward the end of his life. All three plots end up vying for the audience’s attention, with none of them naturally coming to the fore.
As director, Warren Beatty never seems sure what he wants the focus of the film to be; the editing means that the story is choppy, messy and often hard to grasp onto, and while it may seem that the film is cut to be a comedy, there are precious little laughs to be had, while the important scenes vanish too quickly from the screen. The performances in the film are fine, with the supporting cast perhaps doing better than the leads, but the entire affair feeling messy and not well thought out.
In all, ‘Rules Don’t Apply’ is never sure if it is trying to be a biopic, a love triangle or a comedy, and the choppy editing never allows the audience to grasp onto any important part of the story, leaving them trailing in the film’s incredibly chaotic wake.
RATING: 1.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    After an absence of almost 20 years, Hollywood legend Warren Beatty has returned to the director’s chair with Rules Don’t Apply. It’s also his first acting role since 2001. We’ve certainly missed his undeniable talent, but given his recent Oscar gaffe offscreen it’s also clear that something is amiss onscreen too.

    Hollywood, 1958. Bright-eyed, innocent Marla (Lily Collins) is a Virginia country girl who has arrived in Tinseltown with her mother Lucy (Annette Bening) with dreams of becoming a movie star. She’s signed up to become one of Howard Hughes’ female contract players. Hughes (Beatty) of course is a film producer, a billionaire, an aviator, an inventor and a reclusive eccentric who shuns the limelight and lives mostly indoors. Frank (Alden Ehrenreich) is a young man who is assigned to drive Marla around town while she prepares for a screentest. Frank soon becomes one of Howard’s most trusted confidantes, which also includes long-suffering handler Levar (Matthew Broderick). Marla thinks she’s not the typical Hollywood starlet, but Frank tells her that the rules don’t apply to her. But it’s not long before Marla is seduced by the fast and loose rules of Tinseltown…

    The enigmatic and fascinating Howard Hughes has been the subject of several films before, most notably Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator. Beatty has been trying to make a film about Hughes since 1973, so Rules Don’t Apply is an an intriguing proposition to begin with. Beatty certainly captures the period detail well, even using archival street footage of the period to give it a more vintage touch. The footage blends in well with the rest of the film, painting a portrait of the Hollywood Golden Age as it nears its pre-Vietnam end. Then everything changed in a wash of cynicism and bloodletting at the end of the 1960s, with the likes of Beatty’s own starring role in Bonny And Clyde. The script, by Beatty and Bo Goldman, is quite witty at times and tries hard to capture the essence of what made Hughes tick, as seen through the eyes of outsiders Marla and Frank. Perhaps too hard.

    It’s fair enough to say that Rules Don’t Apply is a chaotic film. Scenes are randomly assembled at times, with no real rhyme or rhythm to them. That might be due to Hughes himself, with Beatty’s dialogue rambling about from time to time, digressing on the merits of banana nut ice cream or his battles with aviation authorities. It’s hard enough to know whether to laugh or just scratch your head in bemusement at Hughes’ behaviour. Beatty tries hard to make him likeable, but there’s just something about Hughes that is hard to capture right. It’s a tricky balance and the time offscreen for Beatty hasn’t done him any favours. His acting is a bit rusty. More impressive are Han Solo-to-be Ehrenreich and Collins, who play the unrequited lovers with a knowing sense of who they are in their world.
    The rest of the cast is littered with reliable familiar faces including Martin Sheen and Oliver Platt, but most of them barely register. Spare a thought for the excellent Ed Harris, who only appears for a few seconds – not quite an extra, not quite a cameo, nowhere near enough.

    This reviewer loves films about old-school Hollywood and really wanted to like Rules Don’t Apply. The film has so much going for it, with that great cast and the subject matter. But sadly the film never really coalesces into a satisfying whole, preferring instead to ramble along off the beaten path, mumbling to itself about its own self-importance. A good bit like Hughes then. **