Gareth called Rules Don’t Apply the most underrated film of the year, so I had to watch it. I’m glad I did, if for no other reason than to see the gorgeous cinematography on the big screen, but I don’t think I enjoyed the film as much as Gareth did.
Rules Don’t Apply is Warren Beatty’s film. He directed (for the first time in eighteen years) and co-wrote the film and he starred as Howard Hughes, one of the film’s three central characters. The other two are Frank Forbes (played by Alden Ehrenreich) and Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins). At the beginning of the film, Forbes is a lowly driver, working for Hughes, whom he’s never seen let alone met. Forbes’s job is to drive around, as needed, one of Hughes’ 26 aspiring actresses, one of whom is Mabrey. Mabrey is a naive and innocent young Baptist from Virginia who comes to Hollywood with her mother, Lucy (Annette Bening) to work for Hughes. Mabrey is also waiting to catch a glimpse of the mysterious Hughes and, when she finally meets him, she shows that, while she may be innocent, she’s not afraid to speak her mind. As for the aging Hughes, he turns out to be every bit as eccentric as his reclusive nature would suggest. Sometimes he behaves like a child, other times he repeats himself so much that he thinks he may have the dementia some people think he does. But always, Hughes does whatever he wants and gets whatever he wants.
As the story progresses, Forbes moves up to become Hughes’s assistant and falls in love with Mabrey. But he’s not allowed to date Mabrey (Hughes has many rules, one of the reasons for the film’s title). Besides, he has a fiancé back home (he had sex with her, so according to Mabrey he’s already married to her) so Mabrey doesn’t want to be interested. But she is, at least until … well, that’s enough of the plot, except to say that Hughes, Forbes and Mabrey form a very bizarre triangle.
And despite the fact that those three characters are primary, there are an amazing number of minor characters (like Lucy), played by such actors as Matthew Broderick, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin, Candice Bergen, Oliver Platt, Ed Harris and Amy Madigan, to name just a few. Broderick has the biggest of those roles and he’s terrific (the best I’ve seen him do in many years). But all of the acting in Rules Don’t Apply is outstanding, especially the three actors at the film’s heart. And the characters in the film are a major highlight, with much of the film’s humour (it’s sort of a comedy) being the characters themselves.
Rules Don’t Apply has other highlights, like a number of delightful, even magical, scenes that alone make the film worth watching. Most of those scenes involved Mabrey, who is such a fresh character that the film was, for me, much more entertaining when she was in it than when she was not.
Unfortunately, there were too many scenes without Mabrey that fell flat for me. On its own, this would have been a fairly minor complaint, but the biggest flaw in Rules Don’t Apply is that Beatty seemed to think the rules of filmmaking didn’t apply here. The film jumps all over the place, with many scenes not fitting into any coherent storyline and characters sometime behaving in inconsistent ways. This isn’t a terrible flaw in a satiric comedy, but it did make the film less entertaining for me.
Still, I enjoyed watching Rules Don’t Apply almost enough to award it ***+. Almost. But I think I’ll have to settle for *** verging on ***+. My mug is up.