A tonally awkward, poorly edited and overlong mess of a film, Rules Don’t Apply is a bust of a comeback from filmmaker Warren Beatty, whose overwrought direction is matched by his over the top performance as notorious Hollywood recluse Howard Hughes.
It has been 15 years since Beatty last appeared in a movie, the romantic comedy Town and Country. It you haven’t heard of it, that is because it was a bust of a film that was quietly forgotten. Rules Don’t Apply is sure to follow suit. A passion project for Beatty that had gone through numerous casting variations throughout the years, the film showcases a filmmaker of inconsistent vision and way too much free reign. Boundaries, especially in post-production, would have been of benefit to a man whose reputation as Hollywood legend is completely justified, yet in no way means he is a filmmaker of relevance nor a storyteller able to keep the interest of his audience in this day and age.
The premise of Rules Don’t Apply is interesting enough. Lily Collins stars as Marla Mabrey, a beauty queen and devout Baptist who travels to Los Angeles with her mother (Annette Benning) after she wins a movie contract with RKO Pictures, which is owned by Hollywood legend and recluse Howard Hughes (Warren Beatty). Alden Ehrenreich co-stars as Frank Forbes, a driver who works for Hughes and is delegated to drive Marla to and from auditions. Quickly the pair become close, something which is frowned upon from Hughes who forbids any relationship between his drivers and contract actresses. Of course this does not stop Hughes himself from getting involved, leading to a complicated love triangle as Hughes becomes more erratic by the day.
At 127 minutes, Rules Don’t Apply can be a gruelling watch, especially whenever Beatty is on the screen, that once star charisma withered down to a mugging impression of Jack Nicholson on cocaine. There have been other notable portrayals of Hughes on screen (Jason Robards in Melvin and Howard, Leonardo DiCaprio in The Aviator). Yet where those performances provided different shades to a complicated man, Beatty presents all the caricature and unlikeable annoyance such a personality can muster.
Collins and Ehrenreich fair somewhat better. The pair are striking in look and charismatic in screen presence, and that leads to some good chemistry. Yet these characters (and with that their performances) turn unlikeable and annoying as the film progresses. Odd, considering the stakes at play is the relationship between this young couple full of promise, yet turned bitter and nasty the more they interact with Hughes.
If this was Beatty’s intention, then those 15 years away from the screen has clearly seen the living legend lose his touch. If it wasn’t, then not only has he lost his touch, but he should not get the chance to direct another film. Hollywood has moved on during Beatty’s retreat from the big screen. If Rules Don’t Apply is any indication, it is best he continues to stay away.