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An aspiring young actress (Lily Collins) and her ambitious young driver (Alden Ehrenreich) struggle hopefully with the absurd eccentricities of the wildly unpredictable billionaire, Howard Hughes, (Warren Beatty) for whom they work. It's Hollywood, 1958. Small town beauty queen, songwriter, and devout Baptist virgin Marla Mabrey (Collins), under contract to the infamous Howard Hughes (Beatty), arrives in Los Angeles. At the airport, she meets her driver Frank Forbes (Ehrenreich), who is engaged to be married to his 7th grade sweetheart and is a deeply religious Methodist. Their instant attraction not only puts their religious convictions to the test, but also defies Hughes' #1 rule: no employee is allowed to have any relationship whatsoever with a contract actress. Hughes' behavior intersects with Marla and Frank in very separate and unexpected ways, and as they are drawn deeper into his bizarre world, their values are challenged and their lives are changed. Written by
20th Century Fox
Rules Don't Apply is a showbiz comedy about two star-crossed lovers. But it might just as well be director, producer and star Warren Beatty's mantra. Every so often the man steps out of whatever dimly lit bungalow he lives in and comes out with a big, bold project that stands quixotically and defiantly against the mores of the time. Reds (1981) grated harshly against the easy money proclivities of the Reagan Era while Dick Tracy (1990) looked backwards through the pulpy pages of loose leaf Americana while we looked on towards a post-communist world. Bulworth (1998), arguably Beatty's most radical film ripped off the facade of the yuppie, blue dog Clinton administration, revealing deep fissures between white liberals and the dreams differed of black Americans (albeit as told through the coddled, tone-deaf worldview of a limousine liberal). Now with Rules Don't Apply, Beatty is in full navel-gazing mode, making a movie so thematically simple that it's conventionality is its own form of radicalism.
The film details the brief stint in La La Land of one Marla Mabrey (Collins), the recently crowned Apple Blossom Queen and new RKO starlet on-call. She arrives fresh-faced from Fresno and encounters naive company driver Frank Forbes (Ehrenreich) who, like Marla, hopes to meet their employer Howard Hughes (Beatty). Problem is, this is 1958 and Howard Hughes has not spoken to anyone outside of his close circle of confidants for years. Caught in a state of arrested development, Frank and Marla begin a chaste attraction which alters their futures in unexpected ways.
Beatty portrays Hughes as a full on Falstaffian character; full of wit and intelligence but far too reckless and in-his-own-head to be taken seriously. He fits himself ever so awkwardly into the center of the action, allowing an ensemble cast of A-listers to orbit around the chaos that Hughes creates. It's an interesting mess to be sure. Hughes is simultaneously the most interesting character in the entire movie and the broadest; less a person than an event like the sinking of the Titanic.
Lily Collins and Alden Ehrenreich simply can't hope to compete for attention and screen time, even if their pleasant mugs immediately bring to mind James Dean and the luminous Audrey Hepburn respectively. They make the most out of their piddly roles with Collins managing to warble the catchy old-fashion title song and make the whole scene seem relevant. Yet when compared to the exacerbated gasps of Annette Bening, Alec Baldwin, Oliver Platt, Steve Coogan and Matthew Broderick, our two lovers are completely washed out of the film's more interesting excesses.
And there are some pretty fun excesses. There are solid if low- hanging comedic setups, snappy dialogue and goofy sequences of frenetic action which would otherwise seem slight if not for the fact that comedies are straight-up never made like this anymore. They also keep the ball rolling, making sure everything makes sense without much dead air.
In a career spanning nearly seventy years, Warren Beatty is about the closest thing to Hollywood royalty you got still working today. If you ignore his filmography, and have the patience to sit through a few stale jokes, Rules Don't Apply is basically a lesser Cafe Society (2016). Yet considering Beatty's work is often ahead of its time, Rules Don't Apply is basically a 90's Ganz/Mandel comedy mimicking the sensibilities of the 30's taking place in the 50's starring a guy not relevant since the 80's.
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