A drama loosely based on part of the life of Howard Hughes, Rules Don't Apply allows the character of Hughes (played by writer-director, Warren Beatty) to cast a very long shadow over the lives of a driver/assistant named Frank (Alden Ehrenreich) and a newly-arrived potential film starlet, Marla (Lily Collins).
The main storyline begins when Frank picks up Marla, who has just arrived in town with her mother, Lucy (Annette Bening). The two start to get along right away, but Howard Hughes has strict rules forbidding staff from fraternising with one another. That doesn't stop these two youngsters developing stronger feelings for one another, however, despite the other factors that are working against them. Hughes takes a liking to Frank, asking more and more of him, and both viewers, and Frank, watch the downward spiral of a man who would become a virtual recluse for so many years.
Say what you like about Warren Beatty, and his reputation has preceded him for decades now, the man can put together a film. His sensibilities may be a little old-fashioned for people seeking out films with energy and/or challenging moments, but he picks material that he can work with. He then gives that material the treatment it deserves. Even the much-maligned Dick Tracy movie has a lot going for it, from the effects and production design to the casting. Rules Don't Apply takes two very familiar movie concepts, the "star-crossed" lovers and the legend of Hughes, and blends them together in a way that makes for one engrossing and enjoyable Hollywood presentation.
The script, from a story co-developed with Bo Goldman, is decent, if unspectacular. It keeps Hughes more enigmatic for the first third of the movie, eventually revealing more of the man, flaws and all, as his erratic behaviour is shown, and commented on by those trying to keep their jobs around him. The same goes for the technical side of things, with things like shot choice, soundtrack selections, and everything seen onscreen as well-made and polished as you would expect.
The big boost to the material comes from the cast, something Beatty has always done well with. Ehrenreich is superb in the lead role, and looks absolutely right in this era, while Collins is a very enjoyable female lead. Both deliver the right level of innocence and earnestness, only growing more savvy and cynical as time marches on. Beatty is a decent fit for Hughes, although this is the only role I would have been tempted to recast, and his performance is complemented by great little turns from Matthew Broderick, Martin Sheen, Candice Bergen, and many other familiar faces.
There's nothing new here, but what's here is done well. Really well. And sometimes it's nice to sit back and enjoy something that is so unabashedly old-fashioned and sympathetic to all of the main characters. You get a peek at a strange lifestyle of one of the most rich and famous figures of the 20th century. And you get a couple of young stars being allowed to truly shine.
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