Having been out of the Hollywood spotlight since 2001’s atrocious Town & Country, there’s something a bit ironic about Warren Beatty portraying Howard Hughes. While I’m sure Beatty is no recluse, it just feels good having him back on screen. As good as it is to have Beatty back, it’s not necessarily a triumphant return. Writing, directing, and starring seems to get the upperhand this time, with two separate movies fighting for their spot in the limelight. Thankfully, costars Alden Ehrenreich (our new young Han Solo BTW) and Lily Collins hold their own amidst the anarchic storytelling.
In 1958, Frank Forbes (Ehrenreich) is working hard as a driver for Hughes. While having never driven Hughes himself, he has high hopes that he can work his way to the top. Only problem is, Frank is driving around the hottest young actresses all vying for roles in Hughes’s films. While Frank may fall back on his good ol’ boy persona — he’s engaged to Sarah (Taissa Farmiga) after all — he finds out that he may not be as engaged as he thinks when the young Apple Blossom Queen herself, Marla Mabrey (Collins), comes calling. Hughes has one rule, that his drivers cannot get mixed up with his actresses and as Frank finally finds Hughes bringing him up the ladder, Marla may be the one thing standing in his way.
While Beatty’s screenplay and story may be all over the map, at least he manages to make two really good movies — even if they always seem at odds with each other. On one end of the spectrum, we have Ehrenreich and Collins delivering one of the year’s most romantic performances. The two have wonderful chemistry together and the film is a pure delight anytime it’s focused on Frank and Marla. Unfortunately, as the story progresses, we start spending more time with the loony Hughes.
As much as I love watching Beatty work — and you can tell he still loves being in front of the camera — a romantic subplot involving Hughes and Marla feels extremely trite. It also doesn’t help that there are some terrific supporting players who barely get their chance to shine. Matthew Broderick gets the rare chance to be funny as a fellow driver, but Farmiga barely registers with Ed Harris even less so as Sarah’s father. I honestly forgot he was even in the film until I just looked through the IMDB credits. Candice Bergen and Martin Sheen are also wasted.
Thankfully, Rules Don’t Apply isn’t a complete wash. The love story makes for a fantastic date night option, it’s just too bad the film doesn’t have much meat on its bones, considering it runs over two hours. Had the film been trimmed down and more focused on Frank and Marla, it could have wound up as one of the year’s best. As it stands, Beatty manages to stuff the film with too much padding and it becomes every bit as self/overindulgent as you’d expect out of a film revolving around Howard Hughes.