Rules Don’t Apply is not a Howard Hughes biopic. It is a romantic comedy set in the sixties amid the chaos surrounding Hughes at that time when his eccentricities were beginning to overtake him. Warren Beatty wrote and directed the film, and played Howard Hughes.
The main plot is about aspiring actress Marla Mabry, played by Lily Collins, who is small town Virginia beauty queen. She writes songs and is pretty and smart but not very worldly, coming from a devout Baptist background. She signs on to become a contract player for Howard Hughes’s studio.
The driver assigned to her is Frank Forbes, played by Alden Ehrenreich. Frank also has a strict religious background and a fiancé back in Fresno he has been involved with since the seventh grade. He is excited about working for Howard Hughes because he has a real estate scheme in mind that he wants Hughes to finance.
Hughes only hires people with strong religious backgrounds and has strict rules about drivers fraternizing with the actresses under contract. If they do they are fired. So Marla and Frank are concerned when they start falling for each other.
The performances are fine. Collins and Ehrenreich play their roles in an old fashioned screwball comedy fashion and Beatty is always welcome on the screen. But I didn’t find the characters all that engaging. I think the problem is in the script. Both of the love birds are ambitious and have other agendas that don’t fade into the background when they find themselves attracted to each other. This is perhaps realistic but it is not in the convention of rom coms, which is what Beatty is making here. When Frank dumps his fiancé, he loses a lot of sympathy and Marla is meant to be spunky but her dialog is too strident at times. When she makes her mistake and falls from grace, you don’t really care.
The film is too long for a comedy. There are too many loose ends in the plot. And there’s no sense of it building to a climax.
I read that Beatty has been obsessed with Howard Hughes ever since seeing him in a hotel lobby in the early seventies and has wanted to make a biopic ever since. Obviously Scorcese beat him to the punch in 2004 with The Aviator. That’s a lot of years to research the topic and I have no idea how much of that made it into the final product. But he needed to cut out most of the research and concentrate on his main characters or gone ahead and made his biopic.
Rules don’t apply is a lumpy amalgam of the two that doesn’t really work.