Review: Rules Don't Apply
Biopics are tough. As a filmmaker, you want to be true the life of the subject, while also maximizing the entertainment factor. You want to tell a compelling story, while conveying who the person really was and how they really lived. This usually involves thoughtfully crafted interactions with other characters and a tightly curated set of events that create a richly layered portrayal.
But what happens when there is no thought given to the way the central figure interacts with other characters? What happens when their every word reminds you that this portrayal is just that? What happens when a thin caricature excludes everything that might have been potentially compelling about a story? You end up with the kind of faux portrait offered by Rules Don't Apply. Not interesting, not truthful, and ultimately, not nearly as much fun as it seems to think it is.
Set in 1964 Hollywood, the story revolves around Frank Forbes (played by Alden Ehrenreich) and Marla Maybrey (played by Lily Collins). The pair meet when Frank is driving for Howard Hughes' (played cartoonishly by Warren Beatty) movie studio, which employs Marla as a contract actress. As both Frank and Marla work to move up in the studio, they confront social norms and a complicated workplace that serves to make their romantic connection much more difficult. Meanwhile, as the backdrop to all of this, Hughes is working to dispel notions he is a doddering, senile old man and save the company he inherited from his father.
More than anything, this film just feels like a jumbled mess. The film had four editors, and it shows. The only thing that would have been more obvious is if the film had also had four screenwriters and four directors, but the deficiencies in each of those areas are solely due to Mr. Beatty. There is no compelling narrative or deep themes to explore--just scene after scene of this loose, Disneyfied version of this slice of the life of Howard Hughes. No hints of the ugly racism and anti-semitism contained in the real man. Only a superficially lovably irascible curmudgeon inserting himself in what might otherwise have had a chance at being a decent love story.
If you drill down deep enough, beyond the obvious inanity of the film as a final product, there is one potential bright spot. The love story between Frank and Marla is somewhat interesting if you are able to forget the specter of Howard Hughes. Most of this is due to the fact that Ehrenreich and Collins shine like genuine movie stars. If only the material they were serving up were serving them a bit better.
Every now and then I see a film that leaves me asking "why?" Not why did these characters do this or why did events unfold that way, but why does this exist at all? There is seemingly no message here. There is no soul. There are only two hours of moving pictures building toward predictable conclusions and laughably thin characters. This film embodies the very worst of Hollywood's storytelling traditions. It is filled with lazy tactics and veneer-thin dialogue. One can only hope this isn't really the note Beatty plans to go out on, but if it is, let's all agree to pretend this never happened.
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