Rules Don't Apply - If exhaustion doesn't grip audiences, boredom will

The madness that ensued at the culmination of the 89th Academy Awards, when Warren Beatty was handed the wrong envelope, is nothing compared to the haphazard plotting and direction of his first feature behind the camera since Bulworth in 1998.
Lily Collins as Marla MabreyLily Collins as Marla Mabrey
Lily Collins as Marla Mabrey

Set during the late 1950s and 1960s, when the sun was setting on a Golden Age of Hollywood, Rules Don't Apply is a wildly uneven portrait of philanthropist Howard Hughes, awkwardly positioned within a faltering romantic comedy that tests the deeply pious characters' faiths and our patience.

Hughes gained notoriety for his reclusive lifestyle and Beatty's script bottles some of that madness with scenes of the businessman demanding that his staff ship 350 gallons of his favourite banana nut ice cream to a hotel in Las Vegas, or personally overseeing the grooming of his body doubles.

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His script repeatedly sidesteps historical fact for the sake of spinning a good yarn and this laissez faire approach to historical rigour is made clear in an opening quote from the film's misunderstood subject: "Never check an interesting fact."

The tone of the picture lurches violently from conflict to farce via heightened melodrama, with disorienting cuts between locations that stymie dramatic momentum.

Baptist beauty queen Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins) arrives in Hollywood accompanied by her mother Lucy (Annette Bening) as the latest signing of RKO film studios run by the elusive Howard Hughes (Beatty).

The Mabreys' private chauffeur, Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich), is instantly smitten with Marla, but fellow driver Levar Mathis (Matthew Broderick) reiterates strict rules against fraternising with the talent: "Any driver who tries any hanky panky with a contract actress is gone!"

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Frank struggles to contain his desire while sweetly innocent Marla makes a firm impression on her employer.

"You make an old guy feel courageous, Marla," Howard gushes.

As the philanthropist's mental state deteriorates and he fires long-time friend Noah Dietrich (Martin Sheen) as CEO of his father's company, Frank is ushered into Hughes' inner circle and entrusted with day-to-day responsibilities.

The pressure of catering to the filmmaker's whims and resisting Marla's bountiful charms eventually tips Frank over the edge.

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"Maybe your wealth isn't always the best thing for your health!" he rages at Howard.

The basic rules of filmmaking evidently don't apply to writer-director Beatty's vision because structure, characterisation and tension are largely absent.

Collins and Ehrenreich struggle to convince as star-crossed lovers, clinging to a haphazard script that works against them, while Beatty embraces his character's OCD with fervour.

In the same way that Hughes, as imagined here, is incapable of silence and contemplation for too long, Rules Don't Apply doesn't pause for breath between its bamboozling vignettes.

If exhaustion doesn't grip audiences, boredom will.


Released: April 21 (UK & Ireland)