[Screen It]


(2016) (Lily Collins, Alden Ehrenreich) (PG-13)

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Drama: An aspiring actress and her young driver develop yearnings for one another while working for and hoping to eventually meet the increasingly mentally unstable Howard Hughes.
It's 1964 and reporters are anxiously awaiting to hear from the reclusive Howard Hughes (WARREN BEATTY) in regards to an author's claims that the billionaire has lost control of his mental faculties. The story then rewinds to 1959 when Hughes is running various companies ranging from TWA to RKO Pictures. It's for the latter that aspiring movie starlet Marla Mabrey (LILY COLLINS) has arrived in Hollywood with her skeptical mother, Lucy (ANNETTE BENING). The ingénue has been promised a screen test in order to possibly star in the film "Stella Starlight," and Hughes has arranged for her and her mom to live in a nice place high in the Hollywood Hills.

The two anxiously await to meet the movie mogul, but their driver -- Frank Forbes (ALDEN EHRENREICH) who's only been there a few weeks and has left his fiancée, Sarah Bransford (TAISSA FARMIGA), back home in Fresno -- indicates he hasn't met the billionaire either, unlike Frank's boss, Levar Mathis (MATTHEW BRODERICK) or Howard's longtime personal assistant, Noah Dietrich (MARTIN SHEEN), who've both grown accustomed but wary of Hughes' increasingly erratic behavior. That's also become troubling to Mr. Forester (OLIVER PLATT) who wants to invest in TWA as well as Robert Maheu (ALEC BALDWIN), the company's CEO who, like Marla and Frank, has yet to meet Hughes.

Following rules that there be no hanky-panky between any of the billionaire's employees, Frank and Marla nonetheless find themselves attracted to each other as their time together goes beyond simply being a budding starlet and her driver. But when the two eventually meet Hughes, their lives are changed forever as they get to peek inside the increasingly reclusive man's thoughts and behavior.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Who knows when it started, but people -- mostly women -- have long traded sexual favors in hopes of moving up in the world via the power and influence of those who bed them. I'm guessing no country and no industry is immune from that sort of "business" relationship, but it's fairly clear that Hollywood was responsible for the coining of the term "casting couch" to describe such behavior. After all, especially back in the heyday of the studio system (where people would sign exclusive contracts with one particular movie house), the men running those knew that aspiring starlets would figuratively and literally do pretty much anything between the sheets in order to get their big break.

That's certainly crossed the mind of Lucy Mabry, the highly religious and uber-skeptical mother played by Annette Bening who accompanies her daughter, Marla (Lily Collins) from Virginia to Hollywood where the young, virginal woman has signed an acting contract -- along with lots of other women sharing her age and physical attributes -- with RKO pictures. It was one of the Big Five studios of Hollywood's Golden Age and churned out classic films such as "King Kong" and "Citizen Kane."

And it was owned by none other than billionaire Howard Hughes. The reality that he sold the studio in 1955 doesn't seem to bother Warren Beatty (who seems to dismiss that with onscreen text that quotes Hughes line of "never check an interesting fact") by setting his tale of Hughes, his ownership of RKO and his interaction with young starlets -- "Rules Don't Apply" -- several years after that sale. No stranger to being an alleged self-centered ladies man (Carly Simon's "You're So Vain" is reportedly about him), Beatty not only plays the increasingly eccentric billionaire, but he's also written the script for the film that he also directs.

It's his first time back on the screen since the disastrous "Town & Country" fifteen years ago and his first time behind the camera since 1998's "Bulworth." I've always liked the multi-hyphenate in his various roles (a few exceptions aside), but his return here is far better as an actor than filmmaker. Extremely episodic and featuring a multitude of often extremely short scenes that seem to come from left field and don't always segue well from what preceded or followed them, Beatty's filmmaking vision is either a clumsy misfire or perhaps an attempt to symbolize Hughes' increasingly erratic behavior.

Whatever the case, it doesn't work, and problem is exacerbated by the fact that he does seem certain whose story he wants to tell. It starts off with Marla being new in town and having one of Hughes' personal drivers (Alden Ehrenreich) also being a newbie. With this being the sexually repressed 1950s, and with Hughes likely wanting to keep his bevy of aspiring starlets all to himself, his lead driver (Matthew Broderick) informs others there's to be no hanky panky between the starlets and staff lest the latter be terminated.

That doesn't seem to bother Connie Francis' Stupid Cupid who fires an attraction arrow toward both youngsters, and they're soon staring down each other with obvious tinges of lust in their eyes. But they're also both drawn to Hughes' mystique, something that's piqued when both get the apparently highly unusual chance to meet the man in the flesh.

While an earlier incarnation of Hughes might have pounced at the chance to bed the young woman, that doesn't seem to be his intention, at least not initially. Instead, his deteriorating mental condition has seemed to derail his casting couch behavior, while the young driver ends up moving higher and higher up through his inner circle of confidants.

When that happens, a bucket of cold water is thrown on the budding romance between the starlet and driver, leaving the story with only one real direction to go and that's in examining Hughes and his condition. That's not a bad angle to take, and while Beatty is decent in the role, he doesn't do much with the script or direction to take us down any new and potentially darker than we expected alleys of the man and legend. Coupled with the fractured storytelling structure and pace, and the film ends up being more frustrating and boring than enlightening and engaging.

It's been stated that Beatty has had a Hughes related film gestating for decades. Perhaps he should have continued to let that simmer or simply take it off the stove. Rules might not have applied for the real-life Hughes, but they certainly do in filmmaking and telling a story. And by eschewing a good number of them, the actor, writer and director has delivered a mess of a movie that might capture the look of the Hollywood studio system, starlets and casting couches of old, but doesn't breathe any new life into any of that. "Rules Don't Apply" rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed November 22, 2016 / Posted November 23, 2016

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