“You’re an exception. The rules don’t apply to you.” So states Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich), a young chauffeur working for Howard Hughes (Warren Beatty) in the drama Rules Don’t Apply. In the film, Forbes is referring to an actress he drives around town but the sentiment could extend to Warren Beatty himself. The actor/writer/director has crafted a unique career by oftentimes breaking the rules and taking huge risks. His latest film Rules Don’t Apply was clearly a risky venture but unlike some of his earlier movies, it doesn’t work as well as it was intended to.
Much of the film is set in the late 1950s as the young Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins) begins her journey through Hollywood. Mabrey has been hired as an actress by Hughes. She’s never met Hughes but the eccentric producer has hired her and a group of other actresses to star in his upcoming films. The problem: Mabrey and her fellow thespians don’t know what projects they’ll be working on.
Their housing and their lives are being subsidized by an icon they know little about.
Forbes is one of the drivers that Hughes employs to chauffeur the actresses around. Although Forbes is similar in age to some of the stars, he’s never supposed to have a relationship with any of them.
For much of the movie’s first half, Hughes himself is discussed but never seen. He’s a figure that employs most of the characters but stays hidden from the spotlight. Mabrey and Forbes are attracted to one another and their connection guides much of the early story here. But when Hughes finally arrives onscreen (played by Beatty), the story seemingly becomes more about him.
That changes the tone of the story and the script ultimately loses the momentum it once had. Instead, the tone shifts dramatically in its second half. The drama begins rather optimistically but it takes on a darker hue with an unexpected relationship. It then seemingly shifts from lighter moments to darker ones for the rest of its running time.
The screenplay by Beatty (from a story by Beatty and Bo Goldman) contains a lot of interesting elements and scenes showcasing old Hollywood are really well-done. However, the story becomes too weighted down by subplots and silly moments to remain entertaining. Beatty throws a lot of elements at the screen but few of them truly work as they should.
There are a few key scenes that really stand out including a secluded dinner between the enigmatic Hughes and Forbes. There’s also a unique one showing how Hughes pays his actresses: their paychecks are dropped down on a string from a window stories above the streets. However, moments like these aren’t enough to keep the story on solid footing.
At its heart — and at the beginning and end of the film — this movie is about the budding romance between Forbes and Mabrey. The performances by the two young leads (Ehrenreich and Collins) serve the feature well even when the script doesn’t deliver. Because of that, the film works best when they are in the spotlight but far too often, their relationship fades from view as other elements take precedence.
Beatty does solid work as Hughes here but he ultimately tries to do too much here and ends up hurting the film because of it.
Review by: John Hanlon