Rules Don’t Apply

Rules Don’t Apply

2016, PG-13, 126 min. Directed by Warren Beatty. Starring Warren Beatty, Lily Collins, Alden Ehrenreich, Matthew Broderick, Martin Sheen, Candice Bergen, Annette Bening, Taissa Farmiga, Haley Bennett.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Wed., Nov. 23, 2016

Howard Hughes may have grown wary of the public eye, but 40 years after the famous recluse’s passing, the public eye still has him under the microscope. Martin Scorsese’s 2004 biopic The Aviator was a close-to-completist portrait of the entrepreneur, movie mogul, inventor, and oddball, while other films like Jonathan Demme’s Melvin and Howard and Orson Welles’ F for Fake have chewed more peripherally on his outsize character.

At first, writer/director Warren Beatty’s passion project Rules Don’t Apply seems to fall in the second camp, casting Hughes (Beatty) as a side attraction to the budding love story between two of his employees in the late Fifties. Frank Forbes (Ehrenreich) is paid to chauffeur around Hollywood Hughes’ many starlets under contract, including Marla Mabrey (Collins), a devout Baptist trying to break into the industry without taking off her clothes. Frank and Marla both have big dreams – a source of their bonding – but step one to realizing those dreams is getting the unpinnable Hughes to actually meet with them face to face. Cleverly, Beatty withholds Hughes not just from Frank and Marla, but the audience, too. By the time we finally meet him, the anticipation has taken on Harry Lime-like proportions.

Oh, but what a steep drop-off follows. Beatty hasn’t acted in a feature film since the 2001 misfire Town & Country, and here, two-plus decades too old to be playing Hughes, he has just enough charisma to keep an erratically scripted character interesting as a supporting player – a prod on the plot and not its chief purpose. But he keeps tugging the covers from his young leads, drawing the story away from their winsome romance and toward Hughes’ mania and grasping to hold on to his company. He’s a seeming subplot that swallows the film whole.

Was that always the intention? There’s enough extratextual evidence to wonder if the movie mutated in postproduction: The credits list four editors, as well as the prominent billing of two actors (Dabney Coleman, Chace Crawford) I don’t recall making the final cut of the movie. That’s just speculation, of course. What’s plain onscreen – and often metered out in short, choppy scenes – is an inconsistency in tone, swerving from peppy to morose, and an ambivalence in whether we’re meant to read Hughes as a comical or tragic figure. Either way, Beatty has taken an object of enduring fascination and made him … not so much.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 36 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Warren Beatty Films
Warren Beatty directs and stars in this dramatic rendering of the life of American journalist John Reed (Ten Days That Shook the World) and his ...

Marjorie Baumgarten, Aug. 16, 2000

More by Kimberley Jones
The Death of Stalin
Russia's political upheaval rewritten as dark farce.

March 16, 2018

A Wrinkle in Time
Ava DuVernay's adaptation of the children's classic rarely soars.

March 9, 2018


Rules Don’t Apply, Warren Beatty, Warren Beatty, Lily Collins, Alden Ehrenreich, Matthew Broderick, Martin Sheen, Candice Bergen, Annette Bening, Taissa Farmiga, Haley Bennett

AC Daily, Events and Promotions, Luvdoc Answers

Breaking news, recommended events, and more

Official Chronicle events, promotions, and giveaways

Updates for SXSW 2017

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle