Stereotypical Hollywood has made countless appearances in modern day filmmaking. The Academy Awards generally seems to love films that essentially congratulate the industry for being what it is, although most of them lack a sense of honesty that makes them feel grounded. Warren Beatty is a name that hasn't graced the silver screen in quite some time, and will always be associated with a time in Hollywood when things were different. Well, now he's back as a writer, director, producer, and actor in Rules Don't Apply. However, the question is: do we really need another movie about Howard Hughes?
Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich) is a determined driver with a clear dream to purchase property around Mulholland Drive. In the meantime, he works for Howard Hughes (Warren Beatty), as he is tasked with driving Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins), who is a contracted actress. There are very clear rules that keep the two from developing a meaningful relationship, so they must keep it hidden at all costs.
We all already know how the story of Howard Hughes goes, although Rules Don't Apply likes to think that we haven't. If you've seen The Aviator, be prepared to essentially see a highlights reel that explains all that Hughes accomplished. The film holds its focus on his older years, where he became a recluse. Most of his advisors and staff believed that he was absolutely insane, given his behavior and constantly repeating himself. However, Beatty utilizes this as the film's primarily comedic outlet. While there are a couple chuckle-worthy moments, most of the attempts at comedy feel as if his screenplay is trying far too hard to make laughs happen. Instead of feeling like a natural element of the film, Beatty's script is forcing it in wherever he can possibly fit it.
The most intriguing portions of Rules Don't Apply can be found in its depiction of gender inequality throughout old Hollywood. Marla is depicted as an innocent girl, who has never taken a sip of alcohol or had any sort of sexual experience. She holds her religion dear, although Hollywood begins to corrupt her little by little. In a discussion with her mother, Marla states that smart women don't tend to do well in this particular industry. Screen tests and acting classes are quite exploitive, although a change within this young woman clearly begins to take place. The theme of corruption in multiple fashions is the most interesting aspect of the film, although it doesn't take the spotlight. It's occasionally mentioned, and then dropped altogether. Perhaps exploring the film's strengths would have helped make up for the lackluster Hughes plot.
Even though Howard Hughes consumes a large portion of the film's running time, the real core of the narrative is the romance between Frank and Marla. However, it never feels as if we get to know them individually, which makes it a bit difficult to become invested. It's all a bit too cheesy, especially as the big melodramatic argument feels overly-produced. There isn't a single thing about this romance that reads as being genuine, yet this is the root of the feature. The third act entirely depends on the audience having feelings for these two characters, who met under less than desirable circumstances. By the time the credits begin rolling, the audience is bound to ask themselves one question: what was the point?
It isn't too surprising that Beatty's return to filmmaking has managed to attract some decent talent from across the industry. Alden Ehrenreich does what he can with the role of Frank. While he isn't given much emotional material to work with, he feels compelling enough to drive the film's most troublesome scenes. Lily Collins is stellar as Marla Mabrey, as she consistently delivers a sense of vulnerability that wouldn't be in the film otherwise. It's a shame that she isn't given more screen time, as she's the film's greatest asset. Meanwhile, Warren Beatty overacts as Howard Hughes in ways that might as well end with a cheesy wink to the crowd. Every line is delivered in the most obvious ways possible.
Nearly all of the problems in Warren Beatty's return to the silver screen are due to a screenplay and directorial style that constantly tries far too hard to accomplish so little. The world didn't need another Howard Hughes film, yet audiences are once again spoon-fed a story that is common knowledge. There's a romance that is meant to blossom at the narrative's core, yet the characters aren't established well enough for us to become truly emotionally invested. However, there are hints of good social commentary on gender within the entertainment business, although this is left as mostly unexplored territory. Ehrenreich and Collins do what they can to develop some sort of chemistry, but it isn't enough to make this come to life. Rules Don't Apply's failure to follow its own rules is exactly what lead the film to its demise. Skip it.
Rules Don't Apply will be playing at AFI FEST 2016 presented by Audi on November 10th.