Director: Warren Beatty
Starring: Warren Beatty, Lily Collins, Alden Ehrenreich
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Rated: PG-13 (For sexual material including brief strong language, thematic elements, and drug references)
I don’t know what’s more of a shame: the fact that we haven’t gotten a Warren Beatty film since 2001 or the fact that the film we got is “Rules Don’t Apply.” The movie revolves around Howard Hughes (Beatty) later years in life. For this reason it will undoubtedly be compared to Martin Scorsese’s “The Aviator” from 2004. I’m going to just let you know upfront that the Scorsese movie is a lot better than this one, though even if it didn’t exist I think I would still have issues with this movie. It shouldn’t seem that way since “Rules Don’t Apply” presents a Howard Hughes that is much closer to the real life figure than what Leonardo DiCaprio gave us. Beatty’s Hughes is weird, wacky, sharp as a tack most of the time, but mostly seems lost in his own thought process. The movie, it should be noted, follows a story structure in a very similar manner with less than stellar results.Because despite the subject matter, I’m still not entirely sure this is about Howard Hughes. Yes, he plays a central role in the movie, but the movie never commits to him being the center focus. It switches between various stories of the people who work for him. There is Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich), who has grand ambitions as a real estate owner and is using his job as a personal driver to get investment money out of Hughes. Then you have Levar Mathis (Matthew Broderick), who has been working for the eccentric billionaire for so long he seems to have forgotten what a real life looks like. Finally you have Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins), an aspiring actress who is on Hughes payroll for a movie that may or may never get made. Also, because she is a beautiful Baptist girl, she is the envy of all three men’s lustful desires.
The movie switches between these three characters as the center focus at various times, but the screenplay never commits to any of them having an emotional core worth caring about. Marla comes close, but is ultimately side-stepped for long periods of time, so when her resolution comes the audience has been spending too much time on the other characters. Then we have Hughes. Poor, poor Howard Hughes. The man was rich beyond his wildest dreams, creative in many different fields, and died a senile old man. As if his life story wasn’t tragic enough, Warren Beatty seems unsure what to do with him. The performance itself is good and Beatty chews up the scenery in a way that is memorable and funny, yet the character never really sinks in as someone other than a bother to the three other lead characters.
Maybe that was the point, but if he is a mere foil, why does the movie spend so much time on him in the first place? Why can’t the actual leads get the kind of screen time he gets? They’re the ones who have story arcs. They’re the ones who are most affected by this crazy old man. Howard Hughes in this movie is nothing more than a nuisance. He has no arc. There is no decent into madness here like there was in “The Aviator.” Hughes life is more or less finished at the start of this film, and it’s odd to be watching his final moments in life through the eyes of someone who honestly thinks this is funny. “Rules Don’t Apply” may be the title of a movie about characters who don’t live by convention, but that doesn’t mean Beatty should have made a movie that breaks so much convention the final result is just tolerable.
Parents, there is some brief strong language and a few (non-graphic) sex scenes. Recommended for ages 13 and up.