Review: Rules Don't Apply
Hollywood legend Warren Beatty, a fixture in cinemas for decades, has been absent from the screen for over 15 years. So it's apropos that for his long awaited return that he would play the historic recluse Howard Hughes.
Rules Don't Apply has been sold as Beatty's comeback vehicle. In the works for years, this has been his greatest passion project, so why is it that after all the rumors and anticipation we get something so bland and by the book? To call the film a disappointment is a vast understatement. All the pieces were in place to make a successful look at Hughes' later years, much like Martin Scorsese examined the man's early life in 2004's masterful The Aviator, and yet, all viewers get is a dull romance picture with absolutely no drive whatsoever. A far cry from the actual Howard Hughes, a man of great determination and ingenuity.
The story of two young lovers caught up in the fast paced world of the late 50's Hollywood studio system, Rules Don't Apply could've been something really interesting had it just concerned Hughes' machinations and dropped the 'young lovers' plot altogether. Alden Ehrenreich, who impressed earlier in the year with a great turn in the latest Coen Brothers film Hail, Caesar!, does the best he can here. Though with such a lifeless and predictable script, it's hard to expect all that much from him. His object of desire is portrayed by Lily Collins, depicting one of Hughes' young ingénues, forbidden from physical contact with any of the drivers employed by the Hollywood titan. Surprise, surprise, Ehrenreich and Collins hit it off within moments of meeting and a hidden romance blossoms from there.
It's a story we've all seen before. It's also a story we've seen done better. Perhaps Beatty has lost his touch? In the past he's directed romance exceptionally well both in Dick Tracy and his Oscar winning Reds especially. My only guess is that having been away from the screen for so long, he's not on the level with current audiences. Perhaps there's some genius on display with making Rules Don't Apply as rote as some of those 50's studio pictures, but I'm not buying it. It's been said that a movie is allowed to be many things, what a movie is not allowed to be is boring. This film breaks that cardinal rule, however.
It’s not all doom and gloom however, as it is a very pretty film to look at. The cinematography by Caleb Deschanel is rather lovely and captures the look of the period. The Los Angeles sun permeates every sequence, giving an old school feel to the proceedings. The use of darkness to hide Hughes in various scenes adds a sense of mystery to man, which is one of the few things Rules Don’t Apply gets right. Thankfully the title song is quite beautiful. Written by the songwriting team of Lorraine Feather and Eddie Arkin, ‘The Rules Don’t Apply’ is a classic Hollywood ballad and a song I’ve been humming for a few days now.
What is inexcusable is the atrocious editing of the film. Beatty employed four (four!) editors for this endeavor, and it really shows. Scenes start and stop with almost no warning and no care for character. Annette Bening, who plays Collins’ mother, might as well have not been in this as most of her scenes abruptly end without any resolution. The entire mother figure could’ve easily been dropped without any real consequence to the story at hand. The same could be said for anything having to do with Hughes Industries, since clearly that’s not the story Beatty was interested in telling.
Warren Beatty's performance as Howard Hughes is all over the place. At times endearing, at others totally madcap, there's never a set tone for the character. Having read up on the actual man, he was never this boring, and it's a shame the film doesn't realize his potential. You wouldn't know it from the trailers or press (did this film have press?), but the most memorable actor here is Matthew Broderick, playing a loyal assistant to Hughes. What starts as a standard take evolves into a range of emotions most viewers probably forgot the man could convey. Broderick is a shining point in an otherwise forgettable picture.
Rules Don't Apply is an overly long, mess of a film. Certainly not the awards contender that Beatty & Co. had hoped for. If you're looking for an engrossing and vivid look at Howard Hughes, industrialist and Hollywood King, you've come to the wrong place. Your best bet is to stick to the aforementioned The Aviator, a far more memorable examination of troubled genius than Rules Don't Apply even attempts to be.