Watching an unconventional love story of an aspiring actress, her determined driver, and the eccentric billionaire who they work for, was how I spent Thanksgiving afternoon. It was interesting.
Rumors of Warren Beatty making a Howard Hughes movie had bounced around for decades, and it appears he delivered on his promise. Beatty himself plays the billionaire, and the story mostly revolves around the later years when Hughes was most involved with Hollywood and the movie business. Much of the dialogue and the majority of the scenes involving Hughes emphasize the man’s idiosyncrasies that bordered on mental instability late in life. Beatty plays him as a mumbling goofball who dines on TV dinners in the dark and is frightened of children.
The best parts of the movie don’t involve Hughes, and instead feature the young upstarts trying to make their way in his convoluted organization. Lily Collins plays Marla Mabrey, a wanna-be starlet from Virginia committed to her staunch religious upbringing, who’s beliefs are incessantly reinforced by her distrusting mother (Annette Bening). Her driver is Frank Forbes played by Alden Ehrenreich (Hail Ceasar!), and his own agenda involves convincing Howard Hughes to invest in a real estate development project on Mulholland Drive. As expected, sparks fly between the young actress and the equally conservative young visionary, and we find ourselves engaged with them.
Frank and Marla have some nice screen chemistry that is frequently brought to a screeching halt by yet another cockamamie idea by Howard Hughes. These intrusions prevent any real flow to the film and actually bogged down the story for me. In fact, the disruptions caused me to spend more time “spotting the celeb” than caring about the characters. The list of familiar faces that pop up include: Ed Harris, Amy Madigan, Alec Baldwin, Matthew Broderick, Martin Sheen, Oliver Platt, and even Candice Bergen (as Hughes’ secretary).
It’s easy to see the nostalgia and fond memories that Mr. Beatty has of this late 50’s and early 60’s era in Hollywood. It was all about glamour and the magic of what’s on screen. The real Howard Hughes story is at least as interesting, if not more so, than the history of Hollywood, but this isn’t The Aviator, or even Melvin and Howard.
These days, the Howard Hughes Hollywood legacy is barely a blip. Only a few recall Jane Russell’s close-up or the air battles of Hell’s Angels, while fewer know the RKO Studios story. There are some beautiful visuals and individual moments that can be seen be enjoyed, but if you’re looking for a Howard Hughes biopic, look elsewhere. Warren Beatty’s latest adds little to the legend with Rules.
Rules Don’t Apply can wait for a Red Box night.