Rules Don't Apply

 

            The biggest problem with watching this film is tht the main character is a boorish, selfish, reclusive, self-involved, demented, paranoid, sleazy, egomaniac.  That makes him a little hard to like.

            It's Hollywood in the 1950's.  Howard Hughes (Warren Beatty) loves to bring out small-town beauty queens for “screen tests,” which are really flimsy excuses for seduction on the infamous “casting couch.”  Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins) is one such wide-eyed innocent who dreams of being an actress.  Being a strict Baptist, she's accompanied by her mother, Lucy (Annette Bening), who's zealously guarding her daughter's virtue, but she soon tires of all the delays and just goes home, leaving Marla in the care of her driver, Frank (Alden Ehrenreich), himself a neophyte small-towner determined to make it in L.A.  Frank has dreams of being a big land developer, and is convinced that once he finally meets Mr. Hughes, he'll persuade him to be an investor.

            Well, it turns out that both Frank and Marla are compelling and persuasive, but not necessarily in the ways they intended.  After a period of hiding from both these characters and the viewers, it now becomes Howard Hughes' show, as he tries to stiff-arm Congress over airline regulations, and stiff-arm investors who want to buy his company, and even stiff-arm his own staff who want to manage him.  He refuses to see people, he turns down appointments, he impuslively decides to move his whole entourage to another city, or even another country.  He decides he wants to fly an airplane again, and subjects his terrified staffers to his irresponsible joyriding.  He's an eccentric who's fast becoming a sheer nut case.  And everyone around him puts up with him, because, well, they're being paid to.  And he's the one with the big bucks.

            Though being around the character of Mr. Hughes in this film is as exasperating for the viewer as it surely is for the other characters, it's unquestionably a cleverly nuanced performance by Warren Beatty, who also wrote, directed, and produced the film.  His casting decisions are superb, as Lily Collins lights up the screen with her Audrey-Hepburn-like doe-eyed-ingenue presence.  Though Alden Ehrenreich's character reads economics textbooks by night and becomes Mr. Hughes' personal assistant by day, really, his persona is more like a slow-burn James Dean, all insouciance and studied casualness.

            Maybe Mr. Beatty was just trying to find a part for his wife in his movie, but Annette Bening's role is really superfluous to the story.  There's also a plot hole in Matthew Broderick's part, as he plays another of Mr. Hughes' personal assistants who was supposedly fired, but then he inexplicably re-appears, as if the restorative transition got cut from the final version.  But despite the fact that most of the screen time is Warren Beatty's, it's Lily Collins who steals the show.  And her haunting, halting siren song of the same title as the movie.

 

Questions for Discussion:

1)                  Have you ever aspired to being an actor, singer, dancer, or musician?  How close did you come?

2)                  Have you ever met a character so eccentric that for that person, “rules don't apply”?

3)                  Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?  Who would you say is the most beautiful person in the movies right now?

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association