Hollywood heavyweight Warren Beatty returns to the director’s chair for the first time this side of the millennium to bring us Rules Don’t Apply; a resourceful slice of contemporary filmmaking that resists following a formula, creatively crafted while never compromising on the narrative at hand, nor the viewer’s emotional investment. Reflecting the film’s unpredictable hero, portrayed by Beatty, the sheer eccentricity and volatility of the role is emblematic of the writer/director’s unique approach to storytelling.
Beatty is Howard Hughes, a billionaire entrepreneur with more money than sense, living in Hollywood in 1958. His newly hired driver Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich) picks up an aspiring young actress Maria Mabrey (Lily Collins) to work for his boss, only for the two to develop feelings for one another, in spite of their conflicting religious beliefs. Under the twisted guidance of Hughes, the pair rise up through the ranks, though as they better their own respective careers, they fall deeper into this web of romantic absurdity, gloriously and dangerously caught up in the haphazard lifestyle of their unhinged employer.
The film survives off the compelling nature of Howard Hughes, a wonderful cinematic version of the real-life, mega-rich narcissist (which is sadly all too familiar at present). Yet in spite of the lunacy, there’s a vulnerability to his demeanour, in what can best be described as a tragic character, descending unwittingly into madness. It works well not having him as the central figure too, nor the viewer’s entry point, bestowing that honour upon the shoulder of Frank Forbes, which allows us to appreciate the former’s quirkiness from afar, also giving us this joyous opportunity to build up to his initial introduction in the opening act.
Ehrenreich, the new Han Solo, showed us last year that he has pure star quality when stealing the show in the Coen brother’s ensemble comedy Hail, Caesar! – and he again proves why he’s got one of the most promising futures in the industry. There’s a real traditionalist, romantic movie star quality about him that harks back to actors like Jimmy Stewart, and there’s not much more praise you can give than that. As such he fits right into this environment, as a film that depicts the golden era of Hollywood with a palpable affection, a romanticised, indelible take on Los Angeles, maintaining the glitz and glamour, yet injecting a vital gritty edge.
In some regards there are comparisons to be made to the Coen’s latest endeavour, but this, though entertaining and light-hearted, is somewhat less farcical and is all the better for it, all the while balancing it’s tragic undercurrent with a romantic narrative and irreverent wit. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait quite as long for Beatty’s next one.
Rules Don’t Apply is released on April 21st