Rules Don’t Apply




In the halcyon days of his career, Warren Beatty was a triple threat who could act, write and direct.  He was Oscar nominated six times, winning once for Best Director.  However it has been over 15 years since he last made a film, and of course that recent Oscar fiasco (which was not his fault) now hangs over his reputation.  


So it is with some curiosity that we approach his new film RULES DON’T APPLY. Reputedly a passion project for him since the 1970’s, Beatty has both written and directed this film as well as starring.


Los Angeles, 1958, and the eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes (Beatty) is engaged in his customary pastime of chasing starlets with promises of fame and renown in their movie careers with his patronage.  But while not exactly taking a back seat here, Beatty has Hughes as more of a supporting character to his two young leads.  Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich, so good in HAIL CAESAR and set to be the next Han Solo) is a young driver hired by Hughes to squire his stable of starlets around town.  The latest ingenue to find herself under contract in Howard’s orbit is Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins) who has arrived in town chaperoned by her rigid mother (Annette Bening).  Any relationships between his employees and his contract girls are strictly forbidden but that is not a great issue as Marla is a virginal lass and Frank’s strict Methodist upbringing combined with his engagement to his bland 7th grade sweetheart sees him anything but a Lothario around town.


This engaging but uneven production mixes comedy and drama but not wildly successfully as the movie has no coherent mood.  Beatty has definitely not gone for a biopic as such because he dispenses with truth and accuracy here and there.


Interestingly, the film opens with a Hughes’ quote, “Never check an interesting fact” and Beatty seems to have gone along with this merrily.  For example, Hughes had sold RKO in 1955 (and consequently his stable of contract starlets) and it ceased production in 1957, so by 1958 this entire storyline would never have been happening.  


The second half sees the increasingly erratic Hughes drag his various minions around Las Vegas, London and Acapulco for a five year period with Frank hunting the last supplies of Baskin-Robbins banana nut ice cream and Marla still in L.A. awaiting the screen call that will never come.


This is not a bad production by any means.  Beatty is too savvy a film maker for a total mess.  But it seems poorly edited and always hinting at greatness without ever getting near it.  The problem with such a concept is that because of Beatty’s golden past, the arrival of a project that has been over 40 years gestating generates exceedingly high expectations.  The catch phrases of ‘eagerly anticipated’ and  ‘long awaited’ and the like abound and unless it is a sheer gem, disappointment sets in with many viewers.  I would also wonder if he has waited too long with his subject here.  Obviously the movie is aimed at baby boomers as I feel that very few young people now would even recognize the name of Howard Hughes.


But the strong elements are undeniable.  Beatty’s portrayal of the man as he slid into increasing agoraphobia and paranoia is a masterpiece of acting.  Lily Collins is also exceptionally good.  She does resemble a cross between the young Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn in looks.  The production design also warrants accolades for its perfect period recreation, both of Hollywood in the dying days of the studio system and also America as it was poised on the brink of the social, sexual and political upheavals looming in the turbulent ’60’s.  Overall, the film’s parts work better individually than they do as a whole.   


Of course if you want star cameos, you get them.  Candice Bergen, Lloyd Bochner, Alec Baldwin, Oliver Platt, Ed Harris, Martin Sheen, Dabney Coleman and Steve Coogan are some.  And it had no less than 18 producers including Beatty himself, Steve Bing, Australian billionaire James Packer and one Steven Mnuchin (who happens to be the current U.S. Secretary of the Treasury in the Trump administration.)  


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