Rules Don't Apply full movie review - "Rules Don't Apply"... to the filmmaker or his characters.
The comedy-drama-romance "Rules Don't Apply" (PG-13, 2:06) centers on a billionaire entrepreneur who inherited his father's fortune and became successful in various businesses
, including entertainment and real estate, named some of his holdings after himself, displayed a great interest in national defense and great consternation about foreign influences in American life, seemed particularly obsessed with beautiful women and exhibited increasingly strange behavior in his late 60s and early 70s. This may sound like a bio-pic about Donald Trump, but it's actually about the late Howard Hughes. Hughes dropped out of Rice University and moved to Los Angeles where he became a movie producer in the late 1920s and ended up owning almost all of the film studio RKO Pictures. While continuing to make successful Hollywood movies (including the original "Scarface"), he formed the Hughes Aircraft Company in 1932, later purchasing and expanding TWA (Trans World Airlines) and Air West (which he renamed Hughes Air West). He also developed new kinds of aircraft and held several defense contracts.
Hughes later became involved in manufacturing and hospitality and invested heavily in real estate, playing an especially large role in developing Las Vegas. He was also known to obsess about very small details in life, had unpredictable mood swings, has been described as both indecisive and obstinate and issued a variety of odd edicts from behind closed doors. Hughes became increasingly eccentric and reclusive, while his personal hygiene and his health suffered significantly. Many of the events from Hughes life and his personal characteristics are featured in "Rules Don't Apply", which takes place from 1958 to 1964, but the film spends more time with two ambitious young people who work for Hughes.
Lily Collins plays Marla Mabrey, a beauty queen from a small town in Virginia, whom Howard Hughes (Beatty) plucks from obscurity and flies to Hollywood to make her one his contract actresses. He sets her up with a $400 per week paycheck, acting and singing lessons and a beautiful house in the Hollywood Hills, where she waits for a promised screen test ? and for the elusive and exclusive honor of actually meeting her highly quirky benefactor in person. Marla's mother, Lucy (played by Beatty's long-time wife, Annette Bening), grows increasingly concerned about Hughes' intentions with her daughter ? and skeptical about the chances of his promises ever being kept. Lucy's patience runs out and she heads back to Virginia, but Marla chooses to remain in L.A., still hopeful that her movie career will materialize.
Alden Ehrenreich (after "Hail, Caesar!", playing a naïve dreamer during Hollywood's "Golden Age" for the second time in 2016) plays Lily's driver, Frank Forbes. As a Hughes employee, he is specifically and strictly forbidden from becoming involved in a personal relationship with a contract actress like Marla (who turns out to be one of over two dozen young women whom Hughes is supposedly grooming for stardom). Neither the threat to his job, nor the fact that he's engaged, prevent Frank from becoming friends with the lonely young Lily and spending an increasing amount of time with her. But when their friendship begins to turn into something more, things get more complicated than either could guess.
Frank is struggling with what to do about his fiancé (Taissa Farmiga), how to avoid top Hughes aide Levar Mathis (Matthew Broderick) from finding out what's developing between him and Marla (even as Levar himself makes a play for Marla's affections) ? and hoping to avoid losing his job, while trying to convince the unpredictable Hughes to finance a real estate venture that Frank is cooking up. As Frank moves up in the ranks of the Hughes organization, while Hughes finally meets and starts paying attention to Marla, the developing relationship between Marla and Frank is jeopardized. Eventually, something's gotta give.
"Rules Don't Apply" is a tale of old Hollywood, as seen through the eyes of two fictional dreamers and told through the (mostly) actual experiences of the very real Howard Hughes. As such, the story sheds some light on all that, but falls short of really bringing any of it to life. The film, which Beatty wrote, directed and produced, can't seem to decide on which story it wants to focus or what it wants to say and never develops that focus or says much of anything. At times, It's fun and interesting to get a partial glimpse of old Hollywood, it's shocking and revealing to see this portion of Hughes' life play out and it's sweet and hopeful to experience the possibility of a real romance between Frank and Marla, but none of it turns out to be all that entertaining.
Similar to the real Howard Hughes, Beatty has been something of a recluse in recent years, so his return to filmmaking (for the first time since 1998's "Bulworth", and with his first big screen appearance since 2001's "Town and Country") brings out a parade of movie stars who wanted to be in Beatty's film, but even the likes of Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, Candace Bergen, Ed Harris, Steve Coogan and Oliver Platt don't add very much value to this particular cinematic experience. Beatty has said that this movie is meant to be more of a Hollywood story (set mainly in the year he first came to Hollywood), but it's really more of a Howard Hughes bio-pic. Apparently the movie's title applies equally to the filmmaker and the characters he created. "C+"