The INSIDER Summary:
• Legendary Hollywood figure Warren Beatty has been trying to make a Howard Hughes movie for decades.
• “Rules Don’t Apply” is finally in theatres Nov. 23.
• It feels like a movie from a different era. And it’s overcooked.
For 40 years, Warren Beatty has been trying to make a movie about the billionaire eccentric business mogul and artist Howard Hughes. It finally hits theatres Nov. 23.
“Rules Don’t Apply” is Beatty’s first movie since 1998’s “Bulworth,” the political satire that best predicted of Donald Trump’s rise to power. It stars Beatty himself — now 79, the glory of “Reds,” “Bonnie and Clyde,” and “Bugsy” behind him — as Hughes. Lilly Collins stars as Marla Mabrey, a devout Baptist actress from Virginia who comes to Hollywood to become one of Hughes’s many starlets. Alden Ehrenreich, soon to be known as Han Solo in a “Star Wars” spin-off, stars as Frank Forbes, one of Hughes’s many assistants.
In interviews, Beatty has talked about his painstaking, patient approach to writing and directing “Rules Don’t Apply.” He tinkered with the screenplay for decades and delayed the movie for years as he perfected it in the editing room, occasionally re-shooting a scene he wasn’t satisfied with.
As a finished film, “Rules Don’t Apply” appropriately feels like a work from a different era. It’s an old-fashioned movie with old-fashioned concerns. Beatty puts a couple of religious people in the setting of Hollywood’s “loose” sexual morality, and lets the conflict play out. Mabrey and Forbes strike up a young romance, putting Forbes in conflict with his fiancée and Mabrey in conflict with her piety.
It has long takes and long scenes. No actor’s expression goes wasted. Every character has their say before the scene ends and the movie moves on. It’s more a charming movie from 1950s or ’60s than a movie of 2016.
“Rules Don’t Apply” is also, decidedly, a minor work. Beatty is ambitious — he attempts to plumb Hughes’s psychological depths like few movies have done before, and the film takes place over the course of a decade — but still, it is small. The movie doesn’t track the growth of Hughes’s empire, like Martin Scorsese’s biopic “The Aviator,” or ever focus on more than just a few characters. Its closest cousin in Beatty’s oeuvre is his gangster film, “Bugsy,” in its portrait of an eccentric, ambitious, megalomaniacal rich man exhibiting power in Los Angeles. But while the main character in “Bugsy” tried to tackle the vast expanse of the Mojave Desert in an attempt to make a casino, Hughes in “Rules Don’t Apply” is decidedly less ambitious. He isn’t building anything. He’s past the peak of his business acumen, at a point where he’s just trying to maintain control of his company.
Not that being a minor work is necessarily a bad thing. “Rules Don’t Apply” resembles “Café Society,” Woody Allen’s film from earlier this year starring Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, and Steve Carrell. It’s also a story about love and power in Hollywood (though this one is in the 1930s). The difference is that Allen’s movie took a year to make while Beatty’s is his first in 18. Allen’s is kind of better.
There are two types of scenes in “Rules Don’t Apply”: the Hughes scenes, and the romance scenes. The former show off the billionaire being eccentric, trying the patience of everyone around him. Sometimes he goes silent and unresponsive, like a sulking child, and sometimes he has outlandish demands for his underlings. The romance scenes, between Mabrey and Forbes, are on a totally different register than the Hughes scenes. They sometimes feel like they’re from two different movies. And when either of them are in a room with Hughes, Beatty’s performance dominates them both. He becomes the center of attention, not them. It’s as if the movie is struggling between being a romance, and being a Howard Hughes biopic. It tries to be both, but the two elements don’t work well together.
And that’s strange. For a movie that took decades to make, “Rules Don’t Apply” — for all its charms — doesn’t feel like the work of a perfectionist. The chemistry between Ehrenreich and Collins isn’t totally convincing, especially by the end of the film. It feels overcooked.
“Rules Don’t Apply” will be released November 23.
You can watch the trailer below:
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