Reviewed by Nicholas Vandeloecht
Have you ever looked forward to seeing your significant other at the end of a long workday, but to get there, you first have to sit through a meeting where a boss or manager is essentially rambling off a bunch of ideas and pointers that come off as grating, incoherent and insane? Probably not, but this movie is the closest thing to that. Set in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Rules Don’t Apply is a 2016 period romance directed by Warren Beatty and stars Lily Collins, Alden Ehrenreich, Beatty himself and a whole slew of big names in a story that centers on a forbidden romance…or so you think.
The first half of the movie hits the ground running by telling the formulaic but stunningly sweet and well-executed tale of how aspiring actress Marla Mabrey (Collins) and driver Frank Forbes (Ehrenreich) come to fall in love with each other despite their eccentric boss not permitting his employees to date his starlets. Sadly, this surprising and sunny romance that bursts to life with strong performances from Collins and Ehrenreich gets railroaded by the story of their boss: the infamous Howard Hughes, played by Beatty. Suddenly the later-life story of Hughes, his struggles to keep his business alive and his fear of being committed to a mental institution take center stage, bringing the blistering ride of the young lovers’ story to a crashing halt. Because Collins’ Marla starts out as this lovable, naïve, religious actress-hopeful with a silver tongue, a lot of drive and a bubbly, radiant presence, you can’t help but root for her to build this hidden relationship with a refreshing change-of-pace character in Frank Forbes, who also feels very real and very conflicted about where he stands between his faith and his desires.
The growth of their mutual passion keeps you invested and intrigued throughout the first half of the movie. Once Hughes appears somewhere close to the 30-minute mark, the audience has been given ample time – particularly with the brisk, spot-on pacing of the opening act – to become attached to the two main leads. And even then, the portrayals of Hughes at this point, while purposefully awkward to match the character, become standout scenes because of their weirdness and the comically one-sided nature of the conversations. But once the movie advances beyond a key scene between the two leads around the midway mark, everything collapses. Hughes’ story becomes the focal point, and boy does it play out worse than nails on a chalkboard. The rapid-fire pacing suddenly becomes excruciating as you just want the scenes with the neurotic Hughes to please, please end now.
I get that Beatty is going for a portrayal of Hughes that is intentionally depicting him as unbearable and unstable – you can see the other characters onscreen feeling the same way. But just because that’s an accurate depiction doesn’t mean it makes for entertaining movie material. Watching Beatty’s performance from the halfway point and up to the end feels like a hammer falling on your hand every 5 seconds. There’s an airplane scene that, coupled with the sloppy execution of the movie’s second half, comes off as painful to watch instead of being one of the more memorable scenes of the movie for all the right reasons. Everything centering on Hughes the character would have worked had all of that been turned into its own movie, or made into the central plot of Rules Don’t Apply. But the searing problem is that the romance is presented to be the main story because of the initial setup and the ending. And while the love story shows up in bits and pieces throughout the second half, it falls apart and goes in a rather jarring direction that clashes with the movie’s initial tone and the two leads’ characterization.
The performances themselves were truly amazing and the first act was fantastic, but around the middle portion, the movie just became unwatchable and way more frustrating than the payoff. The journey to the ending is so painful that the payoff comes off as cheesy and cliché instead of feeling like a reward. This was the first movie I remember this year where I saw people actually leave the theatre before it was over. Rules Don’t Apply was a huge letdown. The love story clashed horribly with the account of Hughes, giving us a movie that starts out beautifully but then quickly dissolves into an unwatchable mess. RATING: Dieharder’s Only – Don’t watch this film unless you are a big fan of both romances and of stories relaying the life of Howard Hughes. RDR gives it a 3.9/10