‘Rules Don’t Apply’ shows Beatty & Hughes' eccentricity: review

The wait was worth it.

Warren Beatty has been dreaming of making "Rules Don't Apply," his Howard Hughes project, for decades. Because of both his status as a Hollywood icon and his involvement with one of the most expensive film flops ever, "Ishtar," Beatty's project had assumed the whispers of legend before a frame was shot.

The story follows aerospace billionaire Hughes and certain key members of his entourage during some of his later years when he became a reclusive and odd figure, an object to this day of speculation. What was going on with Howard Hughes? "Rules Don't Apply" offers a potential answer.

That Beatty started working with his actors years ago shows onscreen in subtle ways: such as how Hughes driver Frank Forbes, played by Alden Ehrenreich, becomes comfortable in his relationship and proximity to Hughes, a feeling one can imagine a young actor reaching only after spending ample bonding time with Beatty.

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Beatty and the billionaire do an almost quantum shift — turning the act of watching the film into a brain twister in which one tries to both watch Beatty playing Hughes and sink fully into the story. But then you think: that's Beatty and he's playing Hughes with such aplomb, he's clearly enjoying this.

One wonders: does the Hughes of "Rules Don't Apply" resemble the real Hughes? If so and even if not, Beatty's choices as an actor, his adoption of a bunch of ticks to reveal his take on the recluse, are rather delightful. You get to know this guy, how he reacts to stuff, and what is likely going on inside his odd brain.

Sure, the proceedings are a bit bombastic at times. The conjuring of mid-century Los Angeles mirrors the surface content of what is either the main plot or a big subplot, watching the repression of sexuality as it plays out in two young adults. On the surface the city is sunny and pastel, as are the easy demeanors of the pair with their church-going and mealtime graces. But underneath it all, there is desire and desperate dreams and a clawing to have what the successful people have.

She's a contract actress pushing for her big break; he's hired by Hughe's people — two of them played by Martin Sheen and Matthew Broderick — to drive her around. But he seeks an audience with Hughes to cajole him into a real estate deal. This being L.A. real estate, you have a pretty good idea that buying a whole bunch of acreage to build affordable houses in the 1950s is a pretty good idea, so you know Frank's not unsharp and that helps you like him. Will the two young'uns fight through obstacles and end up together?

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Warning: the obstacles are pretty large.

So is the Spruce Goose, Hughes's famous wooden airplane, which makes an appearance in a pleasurably clever way, a cinematography shot I will not soon forget. Night owls, hamburgers, the sea ... probably a painting or movie graphics magic but thanks for it.

Hughes is portrayed as a former legendary lover boy. But then one character talks about how old he seems, and his libido is not obviously manifest. There are, I imagine, deliberate parallels between this Hughes and the real Beatty. The lothario reputation. Having Annette Bening in their orbits. And the adhering mystery of what seem like years-long, absences, followed by a total reemergence.

Similarly, the film itself is the reemergence of legend. It was fun to watch even if most of the fun was watching Warren Beatty do what he does in the movie business. But it was more fun than that. A study of what money, fame and power can do to him who has them and to those who linger in the gravity. This is something worth considering just now in the wake of the 2016 election. Gravity, jealousy and rayon polyester are strong.

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But to quote someone who died last week, Leonard Cohen, let's hope the artifice that keeps us apart will be shown to make everyone miserable so that the following never comes to be what is known: "Everybody knows that the naked man and woman. Are just a shining artifact of the past. Everybody knows."

Like Cohen's output, "Rules Don't Apply" as a whole is strangely hypnotizing. It has not been edited as so many other recent movies have, down to the nub, removing everything but the highlights you can produce movie trailers from. This thing breathes and creaks. It works. Maybe the cracks are what let the light in.

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