If you ever wondered just how quirky and delusional (off the planet, in fact) billionaire recluse Howard Hughes was, after watching Rules Don’t Apply you will be in no two minds.
Set in 1950s Hollywood, Rules Don’t Apply follows the burgeoning romance between aspiring actress Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins) and her ambitious driver Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich). She is a small town beauty queen, songwriter and devout Baptist. He is a Methodist engaged to his junior high school sweetheart. Both are employed by billionaire Hughes (Warren Beatty), who has forbidden romance between his employees – the penalty for which is instant dismissal. As Frank and Marla defy the rules, the sexual and cultural repression of the ‘50s makes way for the more liberated ‘60s.
This unconventional, fictional comedic drama romance offers a window into the often surreal realm of Howard Hughes, the billionaire movie mogul, famed aviator and legendary eccentric. Among the cast are Martin Sheen and Alec Baldwin, who play Hughes’ CEOs, even though, in Baldwin’s character’s case, has never met the guy. Annette Bening is Marla’s dignified Baptist mother, Lucy. Candice Bergen plays Hughes’ secretary and Matthew Broderick is Hughes’ senior driver, while Oliver Platt a frustrated airline executive. Lily Collins is quite wonderful as the slip of a girl who arrives in Hollywood with big dreams only to see reality get in the way.
Warren Beatty – who also wrote and directed Rules Don’t Apply – revels in eccentricity as the mad as a hatter Hughes. The films picks apart the idiocyncracies of a man who has far more money than sense. Starlets and politicians fall over backwards to meet Hughes, to be within his aura, and all the while most of the time he is a scared little rabbit, except when he takes to the skies and then he is plain reckless.
It is a fascinating and intriguing portrait against which a burgeoning off limit romance splutters – a heady combination, indeed, which although less than conventional works its charm. While Beatty has crafted the basic tale well and introduces us to many solid Hollywood names within the cast, at times I felt the screenplay was too indulgent. It seemed to go off on too many tangents and, as a result, it became bloated. 100 minutes would have been enough to establish the essence of the principal characters.
Part of the film’s charm is in its look and feel, channelling the era with aplomb. Set designers have clearly gone out of their way to ensure they pressed all the right buttons, so those into nostalgia will rejoice. A number of scenes stand out, among them the little ditty that Lily Collins sings not once but twice (not so well, I might add) and her alcohol-fuelled tete-a-tete with Beatty. So, although not perfect, there is a lot to like about this unusual romantic piece. Rated M, it scores a 7½ out of 10.
Director: Warren Beatty
Cast: Lily Collins, Taissa Farmiga, Haley Bennett, Alden Ehrenreich, Annette Bening
Release Date: 27 April 2017
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David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television