Rules Don’t Apply

Director: Warren Beatty

Writer: Warren Beatty (screenplay), Warren Beatty, Bo Goldman (story)

Cast: Warren Beatty, Lily Collins, Alden Ehrenreich, Matthew Broderick, Annette Bening, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin, Oliver Platt, Steve Coogan, Taissa Farmiga

Cert: 12

Running time: 127mins

Year: 2016


What’s the story: Young Marla (Collins) is brought to 1950s Hollywood as one of billionaire Howard Hughes’ many movie star ingenues. She and sensitive chauffeur Frank (Ehrenreich) are soon pulled into the dangerous, exciting orbit of Hughes (Beatty).

What’s the verdict: Warren Beatty’s return to the big screen fifteen years after the catastrophic failure of Town & Country, may be the now octogenarian’s final silver screen outing.

Befitting its subject, OCD-crippled billionaire Howard Hughes, it is an odd beast.

“Never check an interesting fact” says the opening text, credited to Hughes himself. And the story, written by Beatty in his first solo screenplay credit, is interesting but won’t withstand scrutiny.

Lily (daughter of Phil) Collins is Marla Mabrey, a brilliant student selected along with dozens of girls by the reclusive Hughes as a possible movie star. Marla has a large, elegant house in the Hollywood Hills and $400 a week pay. But, little word on whether she’ll be in a movie any time soon.

Driving her about Tinseltown is upcoming Han Solo himself, Alden Ehrenreich, as Frank Forbes. Frank has a surname associated with great wealth, but is a working class boy looking to pitch Hughes an idealistic real estate business deal.

Frank and Marla develop romantic yearnings, but their puritanical Christian upbringings, Frank’s fiancée (Farmiga) and Hughes’ zero tolerance policy on staff wooing his girls threatens their dreams.

Then the enigmatic Howard takes an interest in them…

If not for Martin Scorsese’s anonymous The Aviator, we may have had Rules Don’t Apply earlier.  Warren Beatty has been circling a Howard Hughes biopic since the mid-1960s and it’s not difficult to see what attracted him to the dashing, womanising, enigmatic, secretive, seductive, fabulously successful man.

In many ways, his film is Howard Hughes, charming and exciting for the first half, then weird, exasperating and flighty for the second.

With Beatty offscreen for the first act, the story belongs to Collins and Ehrenreich and their modern-day Adam & Eve story. After their fall from grace, Beatty shifts attention to Hughes, the film becoming Milton’s Paradise Lost and Hughes a wounded Satan.

He seduces the innocents (including Collins in one queasily misjudged scene), roils with Daddy issues and yearns to touch the heavens in his many flying machines.

We told you it was weird…

Layered atop the weighty subtext are great performances and dazzling moments. A nocturnal wonderland, in Hughes’ no-one seems to sleep and Marilyn Monroe can be ordered like room service. Tough business decisions are dodged by country hopping at a time when not even Howard could imagine something as outlandish as Facebook Check-In.

The then-79-year-old Beatty does a fine job of playing the fifty-something Hughes, beguiling/terrorising put-upon staff including Matthew Broderick’s faithful lackey, plus business associates Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin, and Oliver Platt.

Elsewhere in the starry cast is Annette Bening, Mrs. Beatty, herself, in a meta-role as Marla’s mum, worried about Hughes’ wandering eyes and hands. Steve Coogan adds late-in-the-day levity as an airline pilot taken on a hair-raising flight by Howard the Dick.

Ehrenreich brings charisma, vulnerability and grit to Frank (we’re happy he’s going Solo), while Collins has a genuine flash of Audrey Hepburn’s luminesce as a small-town girl growing up fast.

Ultimately though, it’s Warren’s show. Testament to his filmmaking chops is how he (assisted by four editors) wrestles the bizarro story, which also touches upon the fake Hughes’ diary cause celebre, into something remotely coherent.

Like the ice-cream with which the unhinged Hughes becomes obsessed, Rules Don’t Apply is both bananas and nuts. Too much of it will give you a headache, but it has an interesting flavour.

Rob Daniel
Twitter: rob_a_Daniel

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