After a break to raise his family with wife and co-star Annette Bening, Warren Beatty is back --- writing, directing, starring and producing "Rules Don't Apply", a dramatic comedy about Hollywood in the late fifties/early sixties. Beatty plays the enigmatic billionaire Howard Hughes in another Oscar-worthy performance.
The film begins in 1964 Hollywood, where a panel of journalists are awaiting a phone call from secluded-in-Acapulco Hughes to verify whether or not he's suffering from dementia. Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich), his confidante and handler, begs Hughes to make the call. The group has allotted Hughes a half hour grace period and there are only 17 minutes remaining.
Flash back to 1958 Hollywood and one of Hughes' new young drivers, Forbes, is sent to the airport to pick up Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins), a beauty queen from a small town in Virginia, and her mother, Lucy (Bening). Marla is one of Hughes' new starlets, and all of these young women have drivers.
Frank and Marla share an immediate attraction, but Frank is engaged to a childhood sweetheart back home, Sarah Bransford (Taissa Farmiga). He is also a devout Methodist, while Marla and Lucy are strict Baptists. But the biggest deterrent to a possible relationship for Marla and Frank is Hughes' most important rule: drivers and starlets must never, ever date.
Beatty sets "Rules Don't Apply" in 1958, the very same year he himself arrived in Hollywood. It was the beginning of the end of an era when studios were losing their power over their stars. The "Studio System", which kept the talent under tight contracts and virtually controlled their lives, was coming to an end. The content of movies was also changing, reflecting more of the social issues of the '60s.
This, and Beatty's fascination with Hughes, is the basis for "Rules Don't Apply". Marla and Frank are struggling with their mutual attraction and their desires to get ahead in Hollywood via their relationships with Hughes. Much of the film is very dramatic, but it also contains a great deal of humor.
Oliver Platt, whom I love and adore, plays Forester, a financier who's flown in from New York City to loan Hughes four hundred million dollars. He and his cronies are staying at the Beverly Hills Hotel, as well as Hughes. But Hughes won't tell them which bungalow he's in and it's driving Forester completely insane --- to the point that he smashes the phone receiver into pieces. Before they depart, he stands in front of a bungalow he believes to be Hughes', and screams and yells at the door. Only that particular abode is occupied by a confused elderly couple --- hilarious.
The other very amusing scene has Hughes piloting a rather large plane out of London, co-piloted by Colonel Nigel Briggs, played by another
favorite actor of mine, Steve Coogan. The only passenger is Frank, and as Hughes is flying, rather erratically, he's regaling Briggs and Frank with an Al Jolson story. The look on Coogan's face is more than priceless, and the scene is by far the most hysterical in the movie.
Beatty had a song created for Marla to sing called "The Rules Don't Apply". It was written by jazz songwriter Lorraine Feather, Billy Holiday's god-daughter, and composed by Eddie Arkin. It's a very sweet number, and Collins sang it live on set. She says she was terrified, but it doesn't show in the movie.
Collins and Ehrenreich are perfectly cast. Beatty knew it immediately. They are a beautiful pair and their chemistry is undeniable. Collins is a lovely actress, even resembling a young Elizabeth Taylor, at times --- sans those violet eyes. Ehrenreich manages to hold his own with Beatty, which couldn't have been easy. He also plays off the seasoned Matthew Broderick well. Broderick portrays Levar Mathis, the Hughes Company senior driver, who becomes Hughes' right-hand man.
Beatty is a force to be reckoned with as Hughes. His portrayal is incredibly nuanced, formidable and slightly tragic. Beatty never met Hughes, but Hughes was still a very big presence in Hollywood when Beatty first arrived. His assessment of Hughes is one of extreme eccentricity, and also loneliness and brilliance. I find his performance fascinating.
There are a host of other fine actors who have smaller roles, such as Candice Bergen as Hughes' secretary Nadine, Alec Baldwin as Bob Maheu, Ed Harris and his wife Amy Madigan as Mr. and Mrs. Bransford and Martin Sheen as Hughes CEO Noah Dietrich. To complement this esteemed cast, Beatty brought together three of the best in their fields to create the look of "Rules Don't Apply": director of photography Caleb Deschanel, production designer Jeannine Oppewall and costume designer Albert Wolsky --- it's a gorgeous movie to behold.
Opinion: See It Now!
Warren Beatty has been away from the cinematic spotlight for so long there might be a tendency to forget what a huge talent he is, both in front of and behind the camera. Twenty-five years ago he played Jewish mobster Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel in "Bugsy", and several years later he starred in the Oscar-nominated "Bulworth".
I'm happy to report that the 79-year-old Beatty is not only back, he's at the top of his game. As director, producer, writer and star of "Rules Don't Apply", Beatty is astonishing as Howard Hughes, in his later years. After a while, we believe we are watching the real-life billionaire with all his craziness and brilliance.
His performance is nothing short of marvelous. This superbly acted and written dramedy could, and should, lead to a variety of Academy Award nominations, including Best Song. "Rules Don't Apply" is simply one of the year's best films. Beatty's co- storywriter is Bo Goldman, a double Oscar winner for "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and "Melvin and Howard", plus a nomination for "Scent of a Woman".
While we get to know and appreciate the reclusive Hughes, there is a love story afoot involving one of Hughes' drivers for his starlets, Frank Forbes (soon-to-be 27-year-old Alden Ehrenreich) and aspiring actress Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins, Phil's daughter and a dead ringer for Elizabeth Taylor in certain scenes). These two young actors deliver first-rate turns. Their romantic conflict is credible.
The rest of Beatty's cast reads like a "Who's Who" of accomplished movie veterans, and they're all splendid. Matthew Broderick plays Hughes' right-hand man and sycophant, Levar Mathis. His main job is to make sure Hughes' every whim is attended to, like banana nut ice cream. Broderick shines when Levar ultimately explodes in frustration, fed up with his boss's shenanigans.
Alec Baldwin appears briefly as businessman Robert Maheu, his primary complaint, along with many others, that he's never actually met Howard Hughes. As usual, Baldwin lights up the screen no matter the role. Martin Sheen has an even smaller part as Noah Dietrich, the CEO of Hughes' empire for more than 30 years before he was fired. Yet his short time in the film is memorable.
In fact, "Rules Don't Apply" has too many indelible moments to list them all. But none is more sublime than Steve Coogan's portrayal of Col. Nigel Briggs, who sits shotgun while Hughes --- now a pilot after years of not being a pilot --- maneuvers his plane through the clouds. All the while, Hughes is chattering away while Briggs and Frank, also along for the ride, see their lives flash in front of them. It's hilarious filmmaking at its best.
Candace Bergen plays Hughes' secretary and confidante to Marla, Nadine Henly. Good to see "Murphy Brown" again, one of Jeanne's all-time favorite characters. Paul Sorvino has a cameo, and Ed Harris and Amy Madigan are the parents of Frank's fiancee, Sarah (Taissa Farmiga).
Beatty cast his wife, Annette Bening, as Marla's ultra-conservative, Baptist mother Lucy Mabrey. She is terrific, appropriately appalled that Howard ignores her daughter, especially since they made the trek to Hollywood all the way from Virginia.
Oliver Platt has a bit larger role as the rep for a company that is willing to lend Hughes $400 million for his airline, TWA. His character destroys a telephone after umpteen requests to meet face-to-face to consummate the deal are denied by the reclusive Hughes --- hysterical. Beatty is at his best when he agrees to a long-distance phone call to a room full of reporters and others, a skeptical group that needs affirmation it really is Howard Hughes on the other end of the line.
One of the most touching scenes has Marla accompanying herself on the piano to the original song "The Rules Don't Apply", a beautiful ballad that deserves Oscar consideration. Actually, the entire sound track jumps off the screen with tunes by legendary artists like Bobby Darin, Frankie Avalon and others from the teenybopper years of the 1950's.
The film is set in Hollywood, and shifts to other locales like London, Nicaragua and Las Vegas. Actual footage of 1958-era Hollywood and the Las Vegas strip, complete with neon signs blaring their featured performers, lends an air of authenticity to "Rules Don't Apply". It is a totally entertaining and immersive film.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!