Set in the promising world of sunny 1950s Hollywood, Warren Beatty makes his return to film directing after 15 years, with the nostalgic film, Rules Don’t Apply.
The film follows Hollywood-hopeful, the highly religious and eager property-investor, Marla Mabrey (played by Lilly Collins), and equally religious, Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich) as they step into the world of Hollywood in 1958. Brought together by the magnetic pull of Hollywood kingpin -the billionaire director/aviator/aeronautical engineer/entrepreneur Howard Hughes (Warren Beatty) – they have their morals and religious values challenged as they experience the pressures and harsh ‘rules’ of la la land.
Of course as a Hollywood film it’s only right to have a forbidden romance thrown into the mix. Marla is off-limits to any Hughes’ employee, while Frank is off-limits due to his engagement with his childhood sweetheart.
Do they find themselves falling for each other anyway? Of course they do. Their chemistry is clear, romance fostered through small smiles and innocent, off-hand questions about the other asked with an air of indifference indicating anything but. It’s sweet, young love shown with the grace of old-school romance.
However, at times the film feels conflicted, caught between two competing story arcs. Hughes is what brings the two together, however also clamours to claim the focus of the film from the second half. Although Beatty has argued again and again that this is not a biopic, separate from such films as the Aviator (2004) but it’s easy to see why similarities are being made.
A mysterious, unconventional figure (as fostered through not being seen for the first 30 minutes of the film, yet consistently a topic of discussion), as Rules Don’t Apply progresses, more and more screen time is dedicated to Hughes, artfully played by Beatty.
No longer in his prime, but his charisma still shining through in moments of inspiration, eyes sparkling, the charm he employed to draw so many into his world remains evident. And yet, he becomes increasingly reclusive, and eccentric in his requests in a bid to feel young and powerful- moving from city to city on a whim, and requesting tubs of the discontinued Banana Nut ice-cream to be shipped around with him, just to change his flavour of the month.
His decline in health, both physical and mental, is gradual but undeniable, as occurred in real life. Beatty breaks down the Hollywood legend into a real person, with genuine problems and authentic insecurities.
It’s easy to see why Beatty was so drawn to creating this movie, a work almost 40 years in the making. Character and actor are both widely recognised figures with fame spanning generations, yet living largely mysterious, private lives. And of course, the rumours of plethoras of women. At times, it feels as though Beatty is simply playing himself.
The casting for this movie is a highlight. Collins gracefully combines wide-eyed, youthful aspiration and beauty with understated resilience, avoiding a cliché of overwhelming naivety. It’s not hard to believe small-town beauty queen Marla’s introduction to the glamorous, shallow world of Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, Ehrenreich brings the classically handsome, wholesome 1950s gentleman to life – hardworking, polite and respectful, yet sufficiently flawed and determined – to keep the viewer engaged.
For 127 minutes, viewers are caught up in the world of Hollywood, circa 1950/60s, and it’s a pleasure to watch. Although weakened by the seeming competing main storylines. It’s sweet and full of old-school charm (of course, blatant sexism included).
Rules Don’t Apply opens in cinemas on Thursday.