Its taken fifteen years for Warren Beatty to make his return to Hollywood, and with Rules Don’t Apply, it would seem like that return should have come much sooner.
Based on the life of millionaire recluse Howard Hughes, though being very much an original story (which Beatty has had in the planning stages since encountering Hughes as a younger man), it tells the story of limo driver Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich) and aspiring actress Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins), two young people employed by Hughes who develop a sense of affection for each other, despite the fact they are forbidden to form any kind of strong relationship under the contracts they are bound by. When Hughes emerges and becomes a dominant part of each other’s lives, their bonds become tested in a strange and revealing triangle of celebrity worship – though as this is a drama, it marks an inevitable and tragic downfall.
To start things off, Rules Don’t Apply feels like it could have been made in the 1960s where it is set, or any successive decade for that matter, but the film itself feels so dated and pedestrian that contemporary audiences aren’t likely to find much enjoyment in it. While it can be argued that Beatty is a perfectionist and had waited for the right time to get everything in place to his liking, the film feels so overcooked in many respects that perhaps he should have tried to take a step back from his sense of authorship and given partial reins to someone more capable of directing the story.
The ensemble for the film is certainly packed with talent, from Beatty’s wife Annette Bening as Marla‘s doting mother, to Matthew Broderick as Frank‘s fellow driver in key roles, and a wide ensemble of other actors who pop up in the strangest of places, sometimes only for a few brief moments (Haley Bennett, Alec Baldwin, Candice Bergen, Taissa Farmiga, Oliver Platt, Steve Coogan, Martin Sheen, Paul Schneider, Paul Sorvino).
The editing is in itself, some of the worst this year, and given that it had four different editors credited to the film, it really looks like the kind of thing that was re-distributed through several sets of hands. Thankfully, the cinematography from industry veteran Caleb Deschanel helps to distract from this at times, but it is certainly an erroneous fault and one wonders just how much footage was left on the cutting room floor based on how scenes are displayed in the final product.
Even though Rules Don’t Apply is a story that Beatty has wanted to tell for a while now, unfortunately the timing and execution were way off for his passion project to make the impact he wanted. It’s a shame, as it seems like the kind of story that would have worked under a different set of conditions in another time in Hollywood – unfortunately that time has passed and what we’re left with is a major failure of a film that’s arduous to sit through.