Directed by: Warren Beatty
Premise: Set in 1958, an inexperienced actress (Lily Collins) moves to Hollywood to be a contract player for Howard Hughes (Warren Beatty). She falls in love with one of Hughes’ drivers (Alden Ehrenreich) although their relationship is forbidden.
What Works: Rules Don’t Apply takes place in Tinseltown at the beginning of the end of the studio era and the movie is an interesting combination of classic and contemporary Hollywood. Taking place when and where it does, Rules Don’t Apply portrays actors and other Hollywood employees working under contract in which they were sometimes treated as pieces of property. Under the frantic and capricious supervision of Howard Hughes, that condition becomes a stress nightmare as Hughes makes rash decisions and demands his employees cater to his every whim. Rules Don’t Apply also plays on the contrast between public perception and reality, especially in regard to show business. The Hollywood films of the studio era tended to be puritanical in their values. That was a result of the Production Code which forbade most expressions of sexuality and inferences of moral ambiguity. Of course, the people making those films weren’t any more or less human than people of today and had their own flaws and desires. Rules Don’t Apply is a romantic drama about people operating under a strict work environment that is intended to keep them chaste and virtuous but all it really does is prevent them from having healthy relationships and corrupts their integrity. Lily Collins stars as Marla Mabrey, an aspiring actress from Virginia. She’s a familiar Hollywood type—the earnest and conservative small town beauty queen who has come to Hollywood to pursue fame and fortune. This kind of character tends to be a joke but Collins plays Marla with intelligence and an agreeable personality. Rules Don’t Apply is also well shot. The filmmakers use shadows especially well and the picture has an authentic 1950s look.
What Doesn’t: Rules Don’t Apply is primarily a love story but for any love story to work the audience has to want to see the lovers get together. That’s one of many ways in which Rules Don’t Apply falls short. Lily Collins is paired with Alden Ehrenreich as one of Howard Hughes’ drivers. Ehrenreich doesn’t have the same level of charisma as Collins and the two of them don’t have a compelling romantic spark. Rules Don’t Apply is Warren Beatty’s first movie in fifteen years (his last was the 2001 dud Town and Country) and it shows. This picture is clunky. A lot of sequences don’t have a dramatic shape and the transitions between scenes are often abrupt. The clunky nature of the filmmaking is symptomatic of an aimless story. This is a movie with a concept but no coherent vision. Rules Don’t Apply is about people working in 1950s Hollywood under Howard Hughes but there isn’t much more to it than that. It’s intended to be a love story but that’s not handled well and there’s no passion or heartache to it. It’s also a show business story but there’s almost nothing in the movie about that either. We never have a sense if Marla is actually a good actress or not; she does almost nothing related to performing. Rules Don’t Apply also tries to be about Howard Hughes and aviation and here again it seems as though the filmmakers thought that would be a good idea for a movie but they had no idea what that film should be. In this area, Rules Don’t Apply is a weak imitation of films like The Aviator and it doesn’t shed any new light on Hughes. The disjointed feel of Rules Don’t Apply is exacerbated by the casting of recognizable actors in supporting parts including Martin Sheen, Candace Bergin, Ed Harris, Oliver Platt, and Alec Baldwin. This is distracting and a waste of talent.
Bottom Line: Rules Don’t Apply is a disappointment. The film has some interesting pieces but none of it coalesces into a coherent or dramatically engaging whole. There are at least three different stories in this movie and none of them are done well.
Episode: #624 (December 4, 2016)