Rules Don’t Apply and all the images you see in this review are owned by 20th Century Fox
Directed by Warren Beatty
Oh wow! THAT’S a guy we haven’t heard from in a while! I certainly have no idea what the hell he’s been up to for the last two decades, but the guy is finally back from what looked to be retirement to make this film about one of Hollywood’s most iconic names, though in fairness I really don’t know about Howard Hughes besides the name. Does the triumphant return of Warren Beatty prove to be one of the high points of the year, or is his latest film evidence that he’s gonna need a bit more time before he can truly get back into the film making game? Let’s find out!!
The movie begins with Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich) who’s working as a driver for the one and only Howard Hughes (Warren Beatty) in order to possibly get him to invest in some housing project that Frank is trying to get off the ground. The problem is that he’s not driving Mr. Hughes himself; rather he’s assigned to drive around Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins) who’s been brought to Hollywood in order to do a screen test for a movie that Hughes is producing. Marla along with at least twenty other women are all vying for the same part… as far as I could tell, and eventually she gets called in to meet Howard Hughes. At this point, things get a bit confusing as it’s not clear exactly if Marla ever gets the part (or any parts in any movies for that matter), but in the process Frank gets the attention of Howard who makes him one of his personal assistants as the movie is now about following the both of them along with another assistant Levar Mathis (Matthew Broderick) as they do whatever the hell Howard Hughes wants to do during the declining years of his life. In the background, there’s a romance brewing between Marla and Frank, though Howard forbids any “hanky-panky” between his employees, and things start to go further and further south as Howard’s mental state gets worse and worse. Will Frank ever get Howard’s attention long enough to bring his plans to life, or is Howard just stringing him along? Will Marla and Frank get together despite the rules that are keeping them apart? Just… what the hell was this movie about? Can someone explain that to me please?
Every once in a while, I find myself sitting in a theater watching something that I can hardly believe exists and got a wide enough distribution to land in my local no-name theater. I just sit there in stunned silence (or more likely, disdainful grumbling), wondering what I got myself into and whether or not there will ever be an escape. Sadly enough, Warren Beatty has made such a film which is a shame considering how much I like the guy (he will always have my admiration for the phenomenal Dick Tracy) but there’s no way I’m about to sugarcoat just how bafflingly poor this movie is put together. Maybe the guy is just out of practice considering this is the first film he’s done in almost two decades, and I can at least give him credit for providing a believably eccentric performance here (even if I don’t know a damn thing about Howard Hughes and what he was actually like), but there’s not a single technical aspect of this movie that isn’t straight up awful; from the noticeably janky cinematography, fitful pacing, and overbearing music, to the completely unfocused script that isn’t helped by some of the worst editing I think I’ve seen in any movie. The only reason the studio watched this and thought it was in a releasable state was because it JUST SO HAPPENED to have the new Han Solo in it which I’m pretty sure is the same reason they even bothered to dust that Red Dawn remake off the shelf and release on the unsuspecting masses. I’d like to see more Warren Beatty movies out there, but not if they’re going to be this straight up incompetent.
Let’s try to take the movie in the most positive light possible. Based on the finished product, what was our indispensable auteur most interested in getting right? I’d say that all of Warren Beatty’s focus was entirely on getting each scene perfect from day to day; making sure the sets looked nice, the costumes looked authentic, and the actors read their lines correctly. At its best, this movie will have a minute here and a few minutes there where the actors are doing what they can and the film, in these isolated moments, starts to approach what Warren Beatty was going for. There’s an interesting story to tell here as Howard Hughes’s life (especially his later years) is filled with material that is well worth mining for dramatic purposes and at this movie’s best it paints a sympathetic portrait of the man whose life is destroyed because of his status and wealth. Everyone around him respects him or fears him too much to actually take care of him when he really needs it, and in these moments the movie shines.
Sadly, this approach has created a film that sets an unprecedented standard for missing the forest for the trees as EVERYTHING else here actively harms what he gets right. From a technical standpoint, it just feels amateurish which makes it extremely difficult to get invested in what’s going on onscreen. I don’t know much about the finer points of cinematography and camerawork, but for some reason it was distractingly obvious whenever the camera moved; something I don’t recall ever seeing in a movie that wasn’t found footage. Even something as simple as a pan across a city landscape (the first shot in the movie) feels janky and off putting, and there’s even a hilarious crash-zoom at one point because apparently we needed the camera to show us that a character is in shock. Music is just as bad, in that it’s extremely distracting. It’s either too damn loud or the song isn’t really the kind that works as background music, so for at least the first third it felt like someone was fucking with a jukebox while characters were TRYING to say their dialogue and move the plot forward. Even worse is how it’s edited into the movie as almost ALL of the songs in here are for single cuts or for a single scene that includes maybe a few cuts. If we move to a new location, the song IMMEDIATLEY cuts out; no matter where we were in the song. There’s no tactful fadeout once we go to a new location, and the songs really don’t play long enough for them to have a role in the story (the action on screen being in beat with the song or the lyrics having any real significance other than reflecting the time period) so it’s just yet another distraction that pulls you completely out of the movie. The only real exception here is the song on which the film is titled from. It’s a simple piano ballad that Lilly Collins sings a few times and the film which is a nice enough tune and it goes a long way towards developing her character by giving the audience some insight into her thought process and feelings about her new life in Hollywood. Now it is a song that exists diegetically within the world of the movie (as opposed to the soundtrack which is non-diegetic) which is probably why it was spared dismemberment from post-production, but in a movie this weak it at least provides a few nice moments here and there.
What puts the final nail in the coffin here has to be the script, pacing, and editing; all of which combine to make this movie damn near incomprehensible. Supposedly, we’re watching both a love story between Frank and Marla as well as the slow decline of Howard Hughes as his behavior becomes more and more unstable. The problem is that there’s way too much material to cover in the latter story for the romance to have enough room to fully develop, and the film jumps around with no real rhyme or reason and with conveying to the audience how much time passes between cuts. We spend twenty minutes slowly building up to the reveal of Howard Hughes while focusing on our two leads until we finally get a scene of him interacting with Marla and another with Frank, and then BAM! He crashes a plane off-screen, recovers from it off-screen as well, Frank is now his right hand man (from driver to personal confidant OFF-SCREEN!) and Marla is basically pushed to the background because of it. That’s still relatedly early in the film too as things become even more disjointed from there as we follow Howard Hughes (with Frank in tow) through unconnected snapshots of his life. Since I don’t know a damn thing about the guy other than being a film producer for movies I never saw, it was never clear to me exactly who he is and why I should care that Frank (along with a shit ton of other people who are basically extras in the move) is getting wrapped up in all this We KNOW why everyone is there which is because the asshole is rich enough to hire them for stupid reasons, but that’s hardly a compelling character arc, and we’re getting into Howard’s story so late in his life that his slow downfall doesn’t come across as that much of a tragedy. With this shift in focus from a sort of okay love story (that’s still stuck in a movie with HORRIBLE editing, cinematography, and music) to an under cooked biopic about one dude we don’t care about self-destructing, the movie just collapses into an INTERMINABLY long second act where we hit off some bullet points in Howard Hughes’s life while Marla and Frank are trying to keep from getting phased out entirely. The moments where it goes back to Marla and Frank (either together or doing their own things) aren’t that great either as the script is REALLY hokey for the most part, but at least they’re cohesive and are working towards an end point. With Howard Hughes’s story, I had no idea if anything we were seeing had consequence as the movie couldn’t be bothered to spend more than a few minutes on something before moving on to the next thing. Even when scenes do have a chance to play out and come to some sort of conclusion, I never really get the sense that any of it carried over into the next scene; the most blatant being towards the end with Frank’s big subplot being resolved (or at least promised to be resolved) and then we NEVER HEAR ABOUT IT AGAIN. There are decent enough pieces here to make a good movie, but someone lost the damn instruction manual and just tried winging it; creating something truly unwatchable in the processes.
This may just be the best example imaginable of how much a movie is made, not just by the actors on screen, but by the millions of hands behind the camera. All those names that scroll by at the end of the credits have jobs to do, and I’ll be generous enough to say that most of them do their jobs at least adequately. When there’s a weak link in the chain though, in this case I’d point towards Warren Beatty in his role as writer/director as well as the editors, it can tear everything down and ruin all the hard work everyone else put into it. I’d say to not see it in the theater, but the box office receipts tell me you already didn’t which is a shame because anytime we have a film that’s willed into existence by a single voice, I do want to root for it to succeed, and I worry Warren Beatty will disappear further into obscurity after this disaster. However, none of that is on us as we aren’t required to watch a movie just to ensure the future prospects of its maker. At best, you might want to see this once it hits home release, either to see some decent performances (especially from Warrant Beatty) and possible to learn from it as the mistakes here are blatant and so are their consequences. That might be damning with faint praise, but it probably the only praise this movie’s gonna get.
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