For all those out there with minimal film knowledge, Warren Beatty is noting short of a cinematic legend. He’s not only starred in classics like Bonnie and Clyde and Bugsy, but also directed films like Heaven Can Wait, Reds, and Dick Tracy. Rules Don’t Apply marks Beatty’s first big screen performance since Town & Country in 2001 and his first directorial outing since Bulworth in 1998. Being Beatty’s big comeback, one might expect Rules Don’t Apply to be a magnum opus. When all is said and done, though, the film is really more fun than it is great. Of course at least that’s more than can be said about Ishtar.
Rules Don’t Apply marks Beatty’s first big screen performance since Town & Country in 2001 and his first directorial outing since Bulworth in 1998.
Alden Ehrenreich, who was previously seen in Hail, Caesar! and recently landed the role of young Han Solo, stars as Frank Forbes. Shortly after arriving in 1958 Hollywood, Frank lands a job with filmmaker/aviator/entrepreneur Howard Hughes (Beatty). He’s tasked with driving one of Hughes’ actresses, a Baptist beauty queen named Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins). Frank and Marla develop a mutual attraction, but their boss stands in their way of a future together. Hughes promises to make Marla a star and his wife. He also promises to further Frank’s career, making him his right-hand man.
Rules Don’t Apply features fine supporting performances from Annette Bening, Matthew Broderick, and Alec Baldwin, who was also ironically in another Howard Hughes biopic: The Aviator. However, the film belongs to our three main actors, particularly Beatty and Hughes. It’s a truly engaging love triangle of sorts in which Hughes both brings our lovers together and drives them apart. Beatty’s performance is dead-on, creating an eccentric and brilliant billionaire slowly descending into madness. His portrayal of Hughes is arguably better than Leonardo DiCaprio’s Oscar-nominated work. Interestingly enough, though, I still think Terry O’Quinn in The Rocketeer is the best depiction of Hughes to date.
While Beatty excels on an acting level, Rules Don’t Apply isn’t his best on a filmmaking or storytelling level. That’s not to say the movie is poorly made. Beatty does a wonderful job at capturing the charm and elegance of Hollywood’s golden era, even if his film doesn’t reach the same heights as Damien Chazelle’s La La Land. What the film lacks is focus. Beatty jumps from one random set piece to another with little direction. Then again, that’s kind of fitting since Hughes was all over the place. The problem is that the audience never comes to understand what he’s trying to say about Hughes.
While Beatty excels on an acting level, Rules Don’t Apply isn’t his best on a filmmaking or storytelling level.
While not without its drawbacks, Rules Don’t Apply is still thoroughly entertaining with a sensational central performance from Beatty. There’s also a compelling story here, although it’s hard to say how much of it is true. The film tells us upfront that some of the names and dates have been changed, but there are plenty of scenes that feel more fiction than fact. With that said, the film also opens with the quote, “Never check an interesting fact.” So maybe it’s better to just go along for the ride, especially when Howard Hughes is the pilot.