Hot Take: Entertaining movie. I still can’t figure out who the target audience is, though. Based on the box office numbers, neither could the audience.
As I sat through Rules Don’t Apply, there were two overriding thoughts. The first was how thoroughly entertained I was by the various performances including Warren Beatty’s first role in over 15 years as Howard Hughes. The second, thanks to sitting in a completely empty theater, was how there wasn’t an easily definable audience this movie seemed to be made for.
The rules don’t apply to Rules Don’t Apply. Beatty has wanted to make a picture about Hughes for years. After a decade and a half absence, his film was finally made. However, Hughes isn’t the main character in the film as Beatty and his take on the eccentric, paranoid recluse are a secondary tale in what amounts more to a love story… I guess.
The love interests are played by Aldren Ehrenreich and Lily Collins. Enrenreich plays Frank Forbes, a young ambitious driver hired by Hughes to drive around the many attractive aspiring actresses Hughes houses. Collins plays Marla Mabrey, one of those aspiring actresses who also happens to be a Baptist virgin with strong religious beliefs, a rigid mother and the desire to be a star but a lack of confidence in herself which holds her back. Ehrenreich will be better known for his future role as young Han Solo and will likely be more remembered in 2016 for his role in Hail, Caesar! but Rules Don’t Apply is likely to be one of those forgotten films people bring up as a hidden gem when discussing his future accolades. The same goes for Collins who is still more likely to be remembered as Phil Collins’ daughter (something you can’t unsee once you see the resemblance) than for her work here.
The pair work well together as their stories arc with the same trajectory. They arrive in Hollywood at the same time. They share similar impediments to their aspirations. Neither has met Hughes and both have a strong presence in their life that want them to give up on their dreams. In Marla’s case, it is her mother (Annette Bening) and in Frank’s case, it is his fiancée (Taissa Farmiga). There’s an obvious attraction between the two and a bond that forms as Forbes spends most of his time building Marla’s confidence, a practice she reciprocates for her obviously smitten driver.
As normal as that sounds, the film is far from that once Beatty appears as Hughes. Hughes first appears for a meeting with Marla that includes an unusual ritual helmed by one of his most trusted drivers, Levar (Matthew Broderick). The ritual ends with Marla in an poorly lit hotel room where Hughes appears in the shadows. There’s champagne, a bed and two TV trays. Once Hughes makes his way to his seat, the pair are treated to TV dinners, tin foil cover and all. It’s obvious this is Hughes’ attempt at romance but the point is lost on Marla who is too naïve to realize what is happening.
Forbes shares an equally odd initial encounter with Hughes. Frank meets him for the first time in the middle of the night and Hughes drives Forbes instead of the other way around. The two end up eating burgers at a picnic table in front of Hughes’ airplane while discussing Frank’s future. The meeting goes well for Frank as he instantly moves up the ranks thanks to his religious background (he’s a devout Methodist when we meet him). The meeting itself is all too strange to give it justice, though.
The film continues to flip back and forth between normal and absurd with almost all of the absurdity driven by Hughes. Although Ehrenreich and Collins are entertaining on screen together and even though their budding attraction is even occasionally believable, it’s Beatty as Hughes that you gravitate back to. It gets to the point where the main story takes a back seat and you almost forget there’s a story at all. Eventually, it does take a back seat and the Hughes subplot takes over. Then you realize why it was the secondary tale as it fails to have any serious legs. He’s just a kook. An entertaining kook but a kook nonetheless.
As previously mentioned, the title fits the film. The rules don’t apply to Beatty’s dream work. Fortunately, that makes Rules Don’t Apply an entertaining piece of work for someone who isn’t looking for anything in particular in a film. Unfortunately, most of the audiences are and I’m not sure what to tell a potential moviegoer what type of experience they would be getting from Rules Don’t Apply. It’s scattershot, weird, quirkily comedic and as eccentric as the character at the center of a few plots but it’s not really a film about Hughes and not necessarily about the other characters, either. It is but it isn’t. If that makes sense. But it probably doesn’t. You’ll probably get that if you see Rules Don’t Apply. But maybe you won’t.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- The Return of Warren Beatty
Beatty has been waiting for this opportunity for some time and the pleasure he gets from playing the enigmatic Hughes is obvious on screen. It’s a joy to watch.
- Budding Stars
Ehrenreich is a slam dunk as an up-and-coming Hollywood star. It was clear in Hail, Caesar! and even more in focus after Rules Don’t Apply. Following in the footsteps of Harrison Ford as Han Solo seems impossible but seeing more of Ehrenreich gives a new hope that someone can actually pull it off.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- The Supporting Cast Carousel
Beatty’s Rules Don’t Apply resembles a Woody Allen film when it comes to the supporting cast. In addition to Bening (Beatty’s wife) and Broderick, the film features bit parts for (in no particular order) Alec Baldwin, Dabney Coleman, Oliver Platt, Candice Bergen, Paul Sorvino, Martin Sheen and Ed Harris.
- Speaking of Woody Allen Films…
A few months ago, Allen’s Café Society released. Without Hughes’s presence, Beatty’s Rules Don’t Apply would be comparable to Allen’s film. And it would pale in comparison.