Glasgow Film Festival Review – Rules Don’t Apply (2017)

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Few filmmakers and actors have CVs as seamless as Warren Beatty. The actor became a Hollywood icon with a string of critical and (mostly) commercial successes from Bonnie and Clyde to Dick Tracy. Yet the mid-nineties marked a decline in the star power of the actor, ultimately encapsulated by the tanking of 2001’s comic farce Town & Country. Fifteen years away from the screen and even longer away from the director’s chair, Beatty returns with Rules Don’t Apply – a project in which he stars, writes and directs.

Beatty stars as reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes who develops a romantic relationship with a young starlet, Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins) who is under contract to him. However, Marla also attracts the attention of Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich) who is working as Hughes’ driver.

Released late last year in the US, Rules Don’t Apply sadly hasn’t bucked Beatty’s misfortune at the box office – despite this feature delivering a warm nostalgic charm and a sublime performance from Beatty. Part love-letter to the Golden Age of Hollywood, part-testament to the towering might and mystery of Howard Hughes, Rules Don’t Apply has the bright and breezy atmosphere of a debut from a young Hollywood upstart, not a comeback from a seasoned industry stalwart. Capturing Los Angeles in the height of its visual splendour: flash classic cars, gorgeous period costumes and a colourful visual palette, Beatty and cinematographer Caleb Deschanel craft an elegant and cleansing watch. A rollicking sixties soundtrack also gives Rules Don’t Apply a charm-filled, authentic atmosphere.

Beatty provides a performance of towering might as the elusive Hughes, teasing out his entrance with an almost comic gusto. Like Hughes, Beatty has been a rare sight in his respective field for some time – sharing a slight parallel with his period counterpart. Yet when Beatty does appear (around thirty minutes in), the seventy-nine year old still delivers a youthful spark and intensely watchable screen presence. The actor has fun with the role as he tackles Hughes’ inability to be pinned down and his extravagant off the wall demands (hotels full of ice cream, spur of the moment flights). Yet, perhaps conscious of this being perceived as an ill-judged vanity project, Beatty relegates himself to a supporting player – the major misfire of the film. Hughes is a fascinating, multi-faceted role and Beatty delivers one of the most complex and fleshed-out portrayals of this (particularly in chronicling Hughes’ decline), that’s why it is disappointing to see him play second fiddle to a more by-the-numbers romantic subplot.

Whilst Ehrenreich and Collins inject some charm and passion into their respective roles, the will they/won’t they conventionality of this romance between starlet and chauffeur feels old hat compared to the more original Hughes narrative angle. The romance lacks the build-up it needs to convince and simply feels slight and over-sentimental.

Fortunately, as well as Beatty’s unflappable presence, Rules Don’t Apply is filled with Hollywood’s finest in a variety of snappy supporting roles. Annette Bening has some fun as Marla’s religious mother, whilst Martin Sheen, Candice Bergen, Steve Coogan, Alec Baldwin and Matthew Broderick pop along for the fun.

Rules Don’t Apply delivers period charm and Hollywood elegance in droves, whilst Beatty reasserts himself as a cinematic treasure with a towering, complex turn as Hughes.

[rating=4] |Andrew McArthur

Comedy, Drama, Romance | USA, 2016 | 12A | Glasgow Film Festival | 10th March 2017 (UK) | 20th Century Fox Pictures | Dir.Warren Beatty | Lilly Collins, Alden Ehrenreich, Warren Beatty, Annette Bening