What happened in the editing room?
Warren Beatty is the author behind Rules Don’t Apply. He is the screenwriter, the director, the star, and the producer. This narcissism is felt in every frame of the Hollywood era romance, until we are not even sure whether the film’s intention was to be a romance at all. This comes inherently with making a film about a figure as iconic as Howard Hughes. Beatty sets the stage around Hughes (himself), a conceptually magnificent centerpiece that detracts from almost every other aspect of the facade. These issues are abundant, but what hurts the star studded Rules Don’t Apply is not simply the auteur approach, but a rushed feeling that comes from the abrupt start and stop of every scene.
The classic Shakespearean forbidden romance sets itself up to take the main stage here. It’s 1958, the height of Hughes’ domination of Hollywood and by extension the country. Marla Mabrey (Lily Colins) is one of his many young contract actresses, just out of high school. Mabrey is also a devout baptist. Her mother (a superb Annette Bening) is the cause and enforcer, and while she disappears early on, her influence is felt through the rest of the movie. If only the spark between Colins and Alden Ehrenreich — our man Frank Forbes, a devout Methodist and driver for the Hughes empire — could touch the tension Bening brings to the film.
It is the truest disappointment of Rules Don’t Apply. A casting of wonderful up-and-comers that doesn’t quite mesh the way it should. The love moves forward in fits and starts, as do all the relationships the film attempts to build. Forbes goes from being Mabrey’s friend to her lover in one instantaneous moment. He goes from being a proletariat member of Hughes’ agenda to being his right hand man over the course of one unimpressive sequence. Beatty, at least, gives a solid performance, but it is one of vanity and the latter half of the film becomes less about the secret romance and more of an outlet for Beatty to show off his vast knowledge of the subject he’s been studying for decades.
All these problems become exasperated by the pace of the editing, a noticeable clip that offsets almost every scene. Nearly every long take of scenery feels as if it’s cut short, as if there is a four hour cut of Rules Don’t Apply just laying around, waiting to be uncovered as cinema’s next masterpiece. When the globetrotting ensues, about when Hughes’ sanity starts to go, the cuts between locations and plotlines are so quick and unnecessary. The rapid ordering only causes confusion. There is a guise of parallel action, but it never truly occurs nor does it need to for this story to work.
Stars are sprinkled about as if the editing budget was spent on Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen and Matthew Broderick. None of these performances are really necessary, and while Broderick’s role in the grand scheme of the picture plays quite a great deal into what Beatty is saying about Hughes the man, his lines are kept to a minimum. Still, we don’t see these names on the publicity, so Beatty leaves it to conjecture whether or not he just called in a favor from his peers or had an actual massive budget.
The truth about Rules Don’t Apply is that many will indeed fall for it’s old Hollywood charms and general sweetness. It is not without drama or tragedy sure, but it’s a feel good film. Still, if this is your intention it would be best advised you wait until LaLa Land hits your local cinema, as creativity and nostolgia is abound in that one, where vanity and lack of polish make up a majority of this take on the Golden Age of yore.
Rules Don’t Apply sees nationwide release on November 23rd.