Sunday, November 27, 2016

Review: Rules Don't Apply

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox.
It's been 15 years since Warren Beatty either stepped behind or in front of a camera, so it's a great pleasure to see him doing both with his new film "Rules Don't Apply," although the picture itself is, perhaps, not the comeback for which fans were likely hoping.

It's not a bad film by any means. There are some solid performances, especially Beatty himself as the eccentric Howard Hughes, and a decent enough script, but it's a fairly lightweight entry into Beatty's directorial filmography, which includes his terrific "Reds," the vastly entertaining "Dick Tracy" and the hilarious and woefully underrated "Bulworth."

His latest is a light and breezy romantic comedy set against the backdrop of the late 1950s and early 1960s in Hollywood, where Hughes's name still carried enough prestige to nab him headlines, but he had - at this point - already become known as being a recluse with peculiar habits.

In the film, a young actress named Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins) has been invited to become one of the many young actresses bankrolled by Hughes who hope to score a screen test and, thereafter, a career in the pictures. She befriends a young driver named Frank (Alden Ehrenreich, who was hilarious in "Hail, Caesar!" earlier this year and here does a good job of portraying the straight man to Beatty's nutty Hughes), who is tasked with driving her to her various appointments. Neither Marla nor Frank have met Hughes during the film's first third and, for that matter, most of his other employees have not come face to face with him either.

Naturally, a friendship - and, since this is a movie, more than that - eventually blossoms between the pair, but is complicated after both Marla and Frank eventually meet Hughes, who takes a shine to them both. Further complications ensue, both of the romantic (love triangle) and business-related (Hughes refuses to meet in person a government contract with whom he is supposed to take a multi-million dollar loan) sort.

Although Ehrenreich is a solid leading man and Collins breathes life into Marla, whose character embodies more than a few cliches of the young, innocent starlet in Hollywood (highly religious? anti-drinking? chaste? check, check and check), Beatty is the scene stealer as Hughes, who is so full of antic energy that his character almost feels as if it belongs in a different movie that would center completely on him. Other great actors - Matthew Broderick, Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen and Annette Bening - show up, but are mostly overshadowed by Beatty.

So, while "Rules Don't Apply" has its charms and an admittedly deserved denouement for two of its characters, it's ultimately a fairly minor movie for a major filmmaker, who happens to have not made a movie in some years. But I'm very glad to see Beatty back at work and sincerely hoping this is not a one-off.

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