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Rules Don’t Apply

2017-05-05 08:00

What it's about:

In 1950s Hollywood, a young aspiring actress finds herself torn between a blossoming romance with her ambitious driver and the often ludicrous demands and whims of the man they both work for: eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes.

What we thought:

Living up to its own title and the infamous real-life figure that inspired it, Rules Don't Apply is a film that never bothers with little things like tonal consistency, narrative structure or even figuring out just what story it's trying to tell but it is all the more appealing because of just how unwieldy a mess it is. Best of all, it manages to be eccentric and odd and free-wheeling without ever losing the basic accessibility and slickness of old fashioned Hollywood entertainment. No wonder so may critics hated it.

Writer, director, producer and supporting (lead?) actor, Warren Beatty had been wanting to tell this story for longer than many of us have been alive so it's all the more amusing that the finished product so resolutely refuses to commit to any single story. Is it a loose portrait of the eccentric genius of Howard Hughes, a tribute to the Hollywood of Beatty's own youth, a veiled autobiography or an epic love story about a couple of great looking kids struggling to come together against this increasingly unhinged backdrop? Yes.

It would be all too easy to simply assume that Beatty, who hasn't acted for sixteen years or directed a film in eighteen, has simply lost his touch and has made something that is the very definition of a vanity project: that is as indulgent as it is incoherent as it is misjudged but that's to do a disservice to the film's ample charms. And, honestly, even if it really is just the result of an out-of-touch filmmaker failing spectacularly to put together an even half effective late-career comeback, it is at the very least an interesting and enjoyable failure – I am, however, largely, if not entirely, convinced that it's so much more than that.

It is, for a start, really, really well put together with all loving attention paid to its period details, as well as featuring a  lively score and some quite lovely cinematography that ensures that regardless of where the story – or stories – feel like going, you're always guaranteed plenty of sensory delights to keep you going. It also has a really top-notch cast, mixing a supporting cast of tried and true screen veterans (is it just me or is Matthew Broderick having something of his own later-career renaissance?) with a pair of young stars who are themselves just on the verge of having their own screen careers explode.

Alden Ehrenreich has already wowed us as a hilariously dumb Old-Hollywood star in the Coen Brothers' unfairly ignored comedy gem, Hail Caesar, and he's about to play no one less than Han frickin' Solo in a new Star Wars prequel so it's hardly surprising that he so easily excels as a wildly ambitious young man, seduced by the world he swears he's too good for. Better still, though, is Lily Collins, an actress who hasn't really registered with me in her past roles but shines brilliantly here as an uncannily convincing '50s starlet-to-be who matches her effortless, Natalie Wood via Audrey Hepburn good looks with wit, warmth and a wonderfully sparky screen presence. Her sidelining in the later parts of the film is inarguably its greatest – and only truly unforgivable - sin. 

As for Beatty himself, as the enigmatic, unsettling and endlessly fascinating Howard Hughes, he clearly throws a lot of himself into the role, resulting in a presence that is both recognisably human and all but entirely otherworldly. His Hughes may be certifiably nuts but he's fun to be around – and avoids ever becoming tiresome by being a looming, inescapable figure in the film rather than anything resembling its actual lead.

So, yes, Rules Don't Apply is an ungodly mash up of screwball comedy, dark characters drama, quirky romance and ol' Hollywood nostalgia but then, if you're at all like me, such a description should only make you want to see it all the more. If you're looking for standard Hollywood fare that leaves the eccentric lunacy for oddball “art films”, however, you'd probably do well to stay away.

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