Monday, November 28, 2016

Movie Review: Rules Don't Apply

Rules Don’t Apply
Directed by: Warren Beatty.
Written by: Warren Beatty and Bo Goldman.
Starring: Warren Beatty (Howard Hughes), Lily Collins (Marla Mabrey), Alden Ehrenreich (Frank Forbes), Annette Bening (Lucy Mabrey), Matthew Broderick (Levar Mathis), Alec Baldwin (Bob Maheu), Haley Bennett (Mamie), Candice Bergen (Nadine Henly), Steve Coogan (Colonel Nigel Briggs), Ed Harris (Mr. Bransford), Megan Hilty (Sally), Oliver Platt (Forester), Martin Sheen (Noah Dietrich), Taissa Farmiga (Sarah Bransford), Amy Madigan (Mrs. Bransford), Paul Schneider (Clifford Irving).
Warren Beatty is probably the only person in Hollywood who could go 15 years without making a movie at all – longer since he directed – and then return with a film like Rules Don’t Apply – and get a wide release at Thanksgiving for a film that is so clearly an odd duck. Rules Don’t Apply is an odd film – a kind of nostalgic comedy for old Hollywood, right before the studio system was about to collapse – but that’s an odd choice for Beatty isn’t it? After all, he was part of that studio system as a young heart throb – but became one of the biggest and most powerful movie stars after the whole system collapsed – hastened by films like Beatty’s own Bonnie & Clyde. It’s a film in which Beatty plays Howard Hughes – clearly afflicted with some sort of mental illness – and yet, the movie keeps its light, chipper tone throughout. It’s a film about young romance – and yet takes such odd turns in that story that you don’t know what to make of it. That describes the movie as well – that goes on for more than two hours, is more than a little bit of a mess, and alternates between scenes that seem to end 10 seconds after they started, and scenes that can run on for 10 minutes at a leisurely pace. You cannot help but wonder what the hell Beatty was thinking when he made the film – and yet you also have to admit that the film is never boring, is always interesting and is overall one of the strangest you’ll see this year. If the film doesn’t really work, you sort of wonder if it matters, since it does pretty much everything else.
The two main characters in the film are not really Howard Hughes at all – but Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich) and Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins). He’s from Fresno, but moved to L.A. to work for Hughes as one of his fleet of drivers that he employs to drive around the 28 or so young actresses that he has under contract – even though they don’t actually do anything. They are given classes and promised screen tests – but those don’t really happen. You would think this whole thing is a perverted ruse by an old man in order to sleep with a bunch of pretty young women – except the women have never even met Hughes. She is one of those girls – but doesn’t really know what she’s doing there. She isn’t much of an actress or singer – or so she says – but she can write songs. She has been accompanied to LA by her mother (Annette Bening) – who seems to be there more to ensure she sticks to their strict, Baptist strictures than anything else. Frank is a Methodist, and is engaged to married his childhood sweetheart – who thinks them already married in the eyes of God since they “went all the way”. Of course these two ridiculously attractive young people fall in love – even if that is against the rules Hughes has for both of them.
Eventually, of course, Hughes does arrive in the movie – played by Beatty himself, even though he’s a good 20 years older than Hughes was at the time. He isn’t in the first 45 minutes or so of the movie – during which time everyone speaks his name in hushed, reverent tones like they’re in a cult, and he’s their leader. Hughes is already at least slightly mentally ill – and his actions don’t make a whole lot of sense. Eventually both Frank and Marla will meet him in various ways. Marla and Hughes even have a drunken night together – which sounds creepy, and is – since Beatty is 52 years Collins’ senior, but not quite as creepy as it sounds, given the way Beatty plays Hughes – not as a suave, Warren Beatty type, but as an overgrown, immature kid, who never had to figured out how the world worked, since he’s been rich for so long.
Rules Don’t Apply is an odd film to say the least. It meanders, twists and turns, restarts – abandons subplots midstream, and introduced new characters only to jettison them a few scenes later, after having given very talented actors little to do (blink and you’ll miss the likes of Ed Harris for instance). The film both has enough plot to fill a mini-series, and almost no plot at all, considering how inconsequential it all seems. By the end, you have no idea what the purpose of any of it was.
So, why did I end up liking Rules Don’t Apply not in spite of all this, but, I think, because of it? I think it has something to do with Beatty himself – and the audacity he has always shown. This is a man who made a three-plus hour romantic epic about a Communist during the Reagan years – and the won the Best Director Oscar for doing so. He resurrected a nearly forgotten comic book character in Dick Tracy, and made what remains perhaps the most stylistic comic book film ever made. He finished his studio contract out with Bulworth in 1998 – where he plays an old, white “liberal” Senator who becomes a hip-hop philosopher. Warren Beatty does whatever the fuck he wants to do – and Rules Don’t Apply is made in that same spirit. I don’t really know what to make of the film – but its fun, it’s full of its own unique energy, it has some wonderful performances and moments in it and its wholly and completely its own thing. How many movies these days can you say that about?

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