Set in the heart of Hollywood, 1964, Warren Beatty's Rules Don’t Apply opens with a room full of news reporters, eagerly awaiting a call from billionaire Howard Hughes.
We quickly take a step back in time, some five years and four months to be exact, as the origins of the story are revealed, promoted by the arrival of Marla Mabrey, Hughes newest contract actress, as she is picked up by Frank Forbes, the company's newest driver.
The film, at its core, centers around relationships: Marla and Frank, Marla and Hughes, Hughes and Frank. They all take center stage at different points within the story, directing the life of our lead entrepreneur as he attempts to navigate his legal rights, growing paranoid that others will deem him unfit to run his business. His inability to make a concise decision, along with his habit of repeating himself leaves the audience questioning his sanity as well - even if his behavior will resonate with those who have worked the bottom rung of the Hollywood ladder.
Warren Beatty returns to the big screen in fine fashion, earning high marks for his turn as Hughes. It should also be noted that the immensely talented Hollywood veteran writes and directs Rules, proving that even at the age of 79 his triple threat status is still intact.
Lily Collins and Alden Ehrenreich lead a strong and deep supporting cast as Mabrey and Forbes respectively; one that harshly underuses the talents of Annette Bening as Marla's protective mother. Alec Baldwin, Matthew Broderick, Oliver Platt and Martin Sheen also appear in supporting roles, each adding a layer to the complex personality of Hughes through their professional interactions with the man.
As the film proceeds beyond its first act and both Marla and Frank are granted the privilege to meet the man they work for, the story transitions into one of religion and morals, at least by 1960s standards, and how they both pertain to sex.
From a conversation revealing the true reason behind Franks current engagement to one detailing Marla's virgin-centric qualities, the film provides a humorous reminder of how far society has drifted from the biblical morals of our grandparents. That is, until Marla impulsively writes a song that sends both Frank and Howard over the edge - all within a single night. It is at the conception of that song that the lives of all three subjects take a rather abrupt turn.
The film's even pace begins to fall by the wayside as we find ourselves dialed into Hughes questionable sanity. We travel around the globe, watching as Hughes attempts to outrun those he feels are out to get him, working to beat taxes as he prepares to sell his company. The globe trotting is entertaining at first; however, by the end you can't help but feel drained, calling into question just how (and why) Frank has stayed involved with the man who won't come out of hiding.
The rather abrasive dive into Hughes behavior makes the time jump back to 1964 a welcome sight - if only for he fact that it meant the film was coming to a close. Unfortunately Beatty was unsure how to properly wrap up everything, dragging out the final scene and diminishing the overall experience.
Rules Don’t Apply isn't a bad film; on the contrary, it is actually quite entertaining. But the third act makes it hardly memorable.
*This review originally appeared as part of our coverage for AFI FEST 2016.