Saturday 3 November 2018

Movie Review: Rules Don't Apply (2016)

A drama, comedy and romance set in Hollywood, Rules Don't Apply is a wayward and tonally scattered story.

It's the late 1950s, and young starlet Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins) arrives in Hollywood with her mother Lucy (Annette Bening) to film a screen test and join reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes' RKO Studios. Marla's driver is Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich), and after many weeks of classes and rehearsals, it becomes obvious to Marla and Lucy that very few people have ever met Hughes. Lucy departs back to Virginia, while Marla stays behind and flirts more openly with Frank.

Marla eventually meets the sociophobic Hughes (Warren Beatty), and he seems to like her, although he is preoccupied with corporate battles involving his airline TWA. Hughes also meets Frank, and brings him into his inner circle as a confidant. The relationship between Marla and Frank is hampered by his commitment to his hometown girlfriend, while Hughes suddenly expresses devotion to Marla, but she is drunk and he has devious reasons to find a wife in order to fend off corporate predators.

Directed and written by Beatty, Rules Don't Apply is an unfortunate mess. While the recreation of Los Angeles of the late 1950s and early 1960s makes for attractive locales, the story is a muddled bore, and the one obvious attribute is indecision over what the film is meant to be about, or why.

The first act appears to be Marla's story, with Lily Collins in excellent wide-eyed but mischievous form. Hughes does not feature at all in this chapter. Marla then fades as the perspective shifts more towards Frank, his dream of a grand real estate deal and his admittance into Hughes' bizarre world. Then the final chapter becomes all about Hughes and his eccentricities, Beatty belatedly placing himself at centre stage as the film becomes an examination of a billionaire's erratic behaviour.

The film ends with both Marla and Frank incidental to the story of a befuddled businessman's seemingly harmless eccentricities. Marla's late and triumphal re-entry with a new no nonsense attitude does not to dispel the sense that Beatty had no overarching vision.

At a running length of 126 minutes the pacing is lazy and the editing sloppy, with one mostly static scene between Hughes and Marla dragging on for an astounding amount of time, sucking all momentum out of the film. A barbarians-at-the-gate subplot about rival businessmen seemingly scheming to take over TWA contributes frequent interruptive and noisy distraction from the already fragmented narrative, but is barely explained and never expounded upon.

In addition to Annette Bening disappearing early, the cast features a star in every role, with the likes of Alec Baldwin, Ed Harris, Matthew Broderick, Candice Bergen, Dabney Coleman, Amy Madigan, Martin Sheen, Oliver Platt and Paul Sorvino either contributing little or being utterly wasted in single scenes.

Rules Don't Apply breaks all the rules of good film making, and as result fractures into forgettable cutting room floor material.

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