Rules Don’t Apply is the cinematic equivalent of a 120-minute long raspberry noise.
After being scouted by eccentric movie tycoon Howard Hughes (Warren Beatty), small town beauty queen and aspiring actress Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins) moves to Los Angeles hoping to hit the big time. It’s here she meets Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich), a charming driver in the employ of Hughes who is torn between his attraction to Marla, his fiancée back home in Fresco and his strict Methodist beliefs. Their romance is tested by Hughes’ lack of tolerance for employee fraternisation, not to mention a series of increasingly absurd events that pull the pair and their careers in polarising directions.
After sitting on the sidelines for 16 years, Rules Don’t Apply is supposed to be Beatty’s much-lauded return to Hollywood. On top of playing an aging and slightly demented Howard Hughes, he also serves as writer and director for this meandering and miserable misfire that is about as entertaining as a plane crash.
The main issue with Rules Don’t Apply is that it assumes the viewer is already familiar with Howard Hughes and his lengthy list of achievements and eccentricities. If you don’t have that foreknowledge, you’re left to despair as the film skips and jumps through A-plots, B-plots and enough subplots to fill out an entire Scrabble board.
The screenplay really struggles to find a coherent thread at which to pull. Is the film a tongue-in-cheek lampoon of classic Hollywood in the same vein as Hail, Caesar!? Or is it a straight-laced biopic of Howard Hughes in the style of The Aviator? Or perhaps it’s meant to be a swooning romance set against the backdrop of moviemaking like La La Land? In attempting to find success in all of these areas, Rules Don’t Apply excels at none of them.
Credit where credit is due, Collins and Ehrenreich both give affable performances that momentarily transcend the aimless dreck masquerading as a plot. The former is a bubbly and excitable onscreen presence and the latter gets plenty of chances to practice his sexy smoulder.
However, charming leads, a string of cameos (Alec Baldwin, Steve Coogan, Ed Harris) and authentic period detail can only get you so far. All told, there were a grand total of four people in my Thursday evening screening of this film and two of them walked out midway through. If that doesn’t give you an accurate appraisal of Rules Don’t Apply, I don’t know what will.
Rules Don’t Apply is available in Australian cinemas from April 27
Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox