Rules Don't Apply Review
Star-crossed lovers meet a mad billionaire in 50s Hollywood
Half-comedy, half-drama, Warren Beatty’s portrait of Howard Hughes is at times disjointed and confused, but ultimately a bit of a heart-warming screwball romance.Just as everyone’s forgotten the Oscars debacle, Rules Don’t Apply appears ready to remind people of Mr Beatty’s wrong-place-wrong-time-wrong-envelope mishap. It’s a return to the director’s chair that comes nearly 20 years after Bulworth, the critically-acclaimed satire that was perfectly-Beatty – political, cutting and controversial. Rules Don’t Apply seems like it might be a bit political on the surface – it’s about an impossibly rich business tycoon who’s a bit on the unusual side and doesn’t treat women particularly well. But this lively film isn’t about one Donald Trump – it’s about Howard Hughes and old Hollywood, stardom, romance and all that stuff.All that being said, Beatty’s Hughes isn’t really the main character, and actually doesn’t show his face for the first half hour. Alden Ehrenreich (breakout star of Hail Caesar! and the future Han Solo in the next Star Wars Story) plays Frank Ford, one of Hughes’s drivers who carts around all manner of Hollywood royalty. Ford is assigned to be the driver for Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins), a fresh-faced country sweetheart who’s been brought out to RKO Pictures to be the next big thing. Ford and Mabrey have instant chemistry and get along grand – the only problem is a pesky rule that means drivers and the ‘talent’ can’t get involved.
Things are all trundling along nicely until Hughes finally shows his face and starts messing up our young couple’s romance with his increasingly bizarre behaviour. Beatty really hams up Hughes’s many well-documented eccentricities and the film descends into a bizarre-yet-charming mix of 50s-style romance, zany comedy and serious historical biopic. A lot of Hughes’s scenes are dominated by his various neurotic traits, and there are times where you’d be hard-pressed to fully follow along if you didn’t know a decent bit about Hughes going in.
The apparently central plot of Ford and Mabrey’s forbidden romance is almost entirely abandoned for a large part of the second act, with Hughes’s paranoid obsessive behaviour and reputation as a mysterious billionaire taking front and centre stage. Given the legendary and infamous life Hughes led, Rules Don’t Apply is a surprisingly sedate film; Mabrey and Ford’s forbidden love is more funny than steamy, Hughes’s behaviour is mostly passed off as a comic device, and the infamous plane crash which (in real life) seriously injured the billionaire is almost glossed over. By the end of the film, it almost feels as though Beatty was in two minds as to which should be the main plot – the star-crossed lovers or Hughes’s mental health – and so neither plotline quite gets the attention it deserves.
Beatty hams up Hughes’s eccentricities and the film descends into a mix of 50s-style romance, zany comedy and serious historical biopic
A light-hearted, romantic atmosphere permeates the entire film, from the classic, stilting musical numbers to the gorgeous cinematography, which evokes 1950s Hollywood glamour perfectly. The film’s a bit reminiscent of the likes of Hail Caesar! and La La Land, in that it’s an ode to Old Hollywood. Beatty coats everything in a golden glow, and it’s a sweet and funny film, if a little tame. For an in-depth portrayal of Hughes, Rules Don’t Apply cannot compare to Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator, but it’s a light-hearted whimsical homage to the Golden Age of Hollywood that is nothing if not entertaining.
In what might well be his last film, Beatty gives us a mix of confusing plotting, forgotten storylines and at times cringe-worthy over-acting and beautiful aesthetics, entertaining comedy and a really nice bit of Hollywood nostalgia. It’s a bit fluffy, and a bit weird, and a bit aimless. It feels a bit over-long and a bit over-acted. The two sub-plots of the romance between Ford and Mabrey and Hughes’s behaviour never really get the chance to become anything other than sub-plots, and without an over-arching story the whole thing becomes a bit muddled. That said, it’s really great to have Beatty back on the big screen, and Hughes is such a fascinating character that any film about him is going to be at least interesting, and the soft cinematography and perfect costuming is delightful. Rules Don’t Apply has some really wonderful moments and does its best to make up for its shortcomings with lashings of old-school charm.
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