Thursday, April 27, 2017

Rules Don't Apply (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 127 minutes
Director/Writer: Warren Beatty
Cast: Warren Beatty, Lily Collins, Alden Ehrenreich, Matthew Broderick, Annette Bening, Candice Bergen, Martin Sheen, Haley Bennett, Taissa Farmiga, Ed Harris, Alec Baldwin, Steve Coogan, Oliver Platt

Rules Don't Apply is now showing in selected Australian cinemas and is distributed by 20th Century Fox.

In his long awaited directorial return, Warren Beatty commits the ultimate filmmaking sin with Rules Don't Apply...he makes known his obsessive hero worship for his leading man who he is, not surprisingly, also portraying.

According to the 2010 biography "Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America" by Peter Biskind, Beatty has long been an admirer of Howard Hughes and his legacy, as he claimed that he saw much of himself in Hughes. The prospect of a film based on Hughes' life has long been a dream project for the Oscar winning director and with Hollywood's ongoing obsession with the eccentric billionaire, the film was always been on the cards for Beatty. Rules Don't Apply is a different take on the Howard Hughes story and much more of a narrative than a biopic, as his story intercepts with that of one of his contract girls, Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins) and driver, Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich).

The film opens with a direct quote from Howard Hughes himself:-

"Never check an interesting fact"

This is also ollowed by the disclaimer that names and dates have been changed (eg. the dates of Hughes' marriage to Jean Peters and the case of Hughes' against though who claimed to have written an authorized biography). In other words, Rules Don't Apply is fan fiction on a grand scale. What is terrible is that it is blatantly obvious how huge an admirer Beatty is of Hughes. Even without knowing Beatty's background and having prior knowledge that he compares himself in a favourite light to Hughes, his love affair with the man he is playing and directing is so crystal clear that it is actually painful.

In all honesty this is not a delusional thought on his behalf, as there are several similarities between Hughes and Beatty. Hollywood has long had a fascination with Howard Hughes as a result of his eccentric ways, incredible achievements in aviation, obsessive approach to filmmaking and his long list of romantic liaisons with notable Hollywood starlets. These last two points could also be used word-for-word to describe Hollywood's fascination with Warren Beatty. After arriving in Tinsel Town at the tail end of the 1950's (the same time Rules Don't Apply is set) with a bucket load of both talent and good looks, Beatty had a well known reputation that rivalled Don Juan before he eventually settled down with his wife, actress Annette Bening (who also appears in the film as Marla's mother, Lucy). Yet, Beatty has always been a very highly respected filmmaker and actor, who is a complete perfectionist when it comes to his films (hence why Rules Don't Apply was so long in the making).

Despite the fact that there are obvious similarities between the two Hollywood legends, Rules Don't Apply slips past being a passion project and into the realm of a vanity project. Beatty is so thrilled with playing his hero whom he identifies with that the whole film has an annoyingly egotistical glow to it. Not only does it feel self absorbed, but the production itself is in complete shambles. The editing is incredibly choppy leading to irritation and confusion, the mix of archival footage shot on film and newly shot digital footage in the same scene is distracting and the screenplay is nonsensical.

The film is nostalgic as far as the archival footage and costume design goes, but doesn't quite grasp the charm of the 1950's in Southern California nor does it feel atmospheric the way a film like this should be. Beatty makes his own reminiscence for this era known by superimposing photos of his younger self in young Howard Hughes photos and alongside starlets such as Bette Davis and Jean Harlow (another sign of the Hughes story overlapping his own).

To say that this film had potential is an understatement. Everyone was expecting an incredible comeback by Beatty as this is the first feature film he has written and directed since 1998 and it is understood he has been working on this film for even longer. You can see what he is doing, he is putting a different creative spin on the Howard Hughes story. Yet despite the film being primarily about the enigmatic and intriguing Hughes, one finds themselves wanting to watch a film that is more about the young Marla and Frank than him. A film about these two and the dominance that old Hollywood held over their young aspiring stars every action would have been far more interesting and allowed for a more emotional experience. Lily Collins and Alden Ehrenreich are definitely the true stars of the film and often come across a great deal more charismatic and interesting than Beatty's Hughes.

Rules Don't Apply is a grand disappointment. It is completely understandable why Warren Beatty would want to make a film about someone he so greatly admires, but in this case his passion has got the better of him and this is a film made for himself more than anyone else.


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