When a security officer flashed his badge and informed me he would be watching while I took a sneak peek at Rules Don't Apply, I was amused. Bootlegging is a major threat to the motion picture industry, and the thought of a much-anticipated film flooding the internet before its release is serious business. I was amused, however, because the film I was about to watch takes a whimsical look at the obsessive nature of 20th century billionaire aviator, inventor and all-around cultural icon Howard Hughes--particularly his penchant for micromanagement and control. Making matters even more surreal, the film marks the return of a genius, albeit obsessive, filmmaker.
Rules Don't Apply stars Warren Beatty, to whom rules never applied—at least in Hollywood. Beatty waited 15 years to get this film off the ground, so to speak, and along with starring in it, he wrote, produced and directed (for all I know, he helped edit the soundtrack and sew the gorgeous costumes).
Perhaps Beatty's true genius lies in his choice to star in Rules Don't Apply. He was savvy enough to include his off-screen wife Annette Bening, Candice Bergen, Matthew Broderick and Martin Sheen in the supporting cast, while putting the love story of an ingenue (Lily Collins) and chauffeur (Alden Ehrenreich) in the forefront. Nonetheless, Beatty was devilish enough to steal his own film, reminding us how delicious his light-comic touch can be—leave it to Beatty to mine the comedy out of the bizarre legend of Howard Hughes.
There have been biopics aplenty deconstructing the eccentric psyche and tumultuous life of Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio's three hours of hand-wringing in The Aviator in 2004 was nearly insufferable), but Beatty takes the man's idiosyncrasies and acknowledges—at least from the outside looking in—he was a first-rate loon whose money guaranteed his minions would satisfy his every whim and endure his scattershot abuse.
It was no secret Hughes had an eye for the ladies. His public relationships included Katherine Hepburn and Ava Gardner but, privately, he also kept plenty of pretty young ladies sequestered in bungalows across Hollywood (Rules insists there were dozens at any given time). History tells us Hughes regularly spied on his would-be concubines and, when he was conducting his own surveillance (via hidden cameras and microphones), he would order his staff to keep tabs on his tinsel town trifles.
Therein lies the story of Rules Don't Apply: Hughes summons a Baptist beauty queen (Collins) to Hollywood, keeping her under the watchful eye of his driver (Ehrenreich, who has been tagged to play the young Han Solo in a 2018 Star Wars feature).
Sparks fly between the beauty queen and the chauffeur while Hughes orbits far above their atmosphere. Rules Don't Apply is tantalizing one moment and tender the next.
Beatty will surely be invited to next year's Academy Awards, which is familiar territory for him: He is the only man who was twice nominated in all four major categories (picture, actor, director and screenplay) for Heaven Can Wait in 1978 and again in 1981 with Reds. He took home the directing Oscar for Reds but has never been awarded for acting.
For the record, Beatty tweaked some dates and historical events for his own take on Howard Hughes. No big worries; Hughes himself is quoted as once saying, "Never check an interesting fact." At least Beatty insists Hughes said it, and we should take him at his word, lest we scare him off for another 15 years.