Everyone knows that we’re on a bit of a nostalgia kick at the moment. Just look at the films being released now, everything seems to be a reboot of a film from that time and even if someone does make something original, it is usually influenced by something from another era. But while most movies seemed to be influenced by the 80’s and 90’s, we are now looking even further back with more and more films being set or heavily influenced by the 1940’s and 50’s. And so the latest film to be influenced by this era is Rules Don’t Apply.
Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones) moves to Hollywood to become a contract actress for the eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes (Warren Beatty, Bonnie and Clyde). She starts to fall for her driver Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich, Beautiful Creatures), some which is forbidden and threatens both of their careers.
So if you look at Rules Don’t Apply trailer, the poster and pretty much everything about the film, you will imagine it is a romance film set in the golden age of Hollywood. It would probably be clichéd, there’s a lot of Romeo and Juliet stuff set up with their relationship being forbidden and their religions also being incompatible, but hey, so was The Notebook and that is beloved by many people. But bizarrely while it starts off as a romance, and ends as a romance, it forgets it is a romance film. Instead the movie starts to revolve around Howard Hughes after the end of the first third and wondering whether or not he is eccentric or actually clinically insane.
This would make a fine film on its own if done properly, but plopping it in the middle of the film when you’ve kept the character hidden for a long time is just plain bad film making, showing that the script writer obviously got distracted writing this romance and decided to do something else in the middle, before being reminded by someone this was a romance and ended it in such a way.
But I do get why everyone involved in Rules Don’t Apply got distracted with the romance, it is absolutely rubbish. It should work, after all the Romeo and Juliet trope is used because it works and the setting should disguise from any of the stuff used in other films. But it all fails on it’s two leads who are both incredibly wooden. Seriously, both Lily Collins and Alden Ehrenreich act like they are reading all the lines off a cue card behind the camera and they seem to rarely share any eye contact at all. In fact, they are barely share any chemistry and it feels like they’ve just met each other that day, no matter what scene it is. It’s a romance with no romance between their pair and if that doesn’t work, the film doesn’t work.
But in fairness to the pair, they are working with an absolute clunker of a script. It’s full of long, unnatural lines which just expose how unnatural this all feels, and for a while I felt it was deliberate, either to enhance the awkwardness of certain characters or maybe even in homage to some of the old romance films you can spot on BBC2 at 11am on Tuesdays. But no, apparently confident characters also get these lines which expose how poor this script is and quite simply embarrass some of the actors involved, who are made to look a bit dim and rather poor because of it.
And if I’m quite honest, Rules Don’t Apply feels like a massive ego trip for Warren Beatty. He is directing this film as well as starring as Howard Hughes, and everything about this screams that he wants to be star. It’s his character that starts to hijack scenes and instead of trying to build any sort of chemistry between the two supposed leads, it’s all about Hughes talking to those two and the plot refusing to advance in any way of form unless he is involved in some way. And when there’s a scene later on with Hughes and Marla getting involved with each other, I refuse to say more, it becomes so obvious that this film was to let Beatty have another headline role where he simply gets to have fun at our expense.
Now, I don’t mean to criticize Beatty completely because when he is behind the camera rather than in front of it, he does some good stuff. the film looks very nice, with the production design being top notch and the costume work being similar excellent. The movie does a very good job of transporting us decades in the past and if you are nostalgic for this time period, you’ll get something out of this at least. This is something that Beatty has excelled in for years because you can criticize a lot of his movies but have you ever been able to say that the film looks bad?
Rules Don’t Apply should have been a cheesy but charming romance film set in the golden era of Hollywood. It wouldn’t be getting into any Top Ten lists, but it would surely find a fan base with those who like that sort of thing. But instead of giving us that, it forgets it’s main aim should be to get us invested in the admittedly wooden lead, and thinks it should a piece about the declining mental state of Howard Hughes. This movie needed a complete re-write, with someone telling Beatty that he needed to shove out and simply be a supporting actor rather than the star. But no, we get a film filled with ego that has no idea what kind of movie it actually is.