Arts Review, Movies

Rules Don’t Apply

Rules Don’t Apply featured image

Rules Don’t Apply

Warren Beatty, director and writer

Starring: Warren Beatty (Howard Hughes), Lily Collins (Maria Mabrey), Alden Ehrenreich (Frank Forbes), Matthew Broderick (Levar Mathis), Alec Baldwin (Robert Maheu), Haley Bennett (Mamie Murphy), Candice Bergen (Nadine Henly), Dabney Coleman (Raymond Holliday), Steve Coogan (Col. Nigel Briggs) Ed Harris (Mr. Bransford), Martin Sheen (Noah Dietrich), Paul Sorvino (Vernon Scott), Taissa Farmiga (Sarah Bransford), Amy Madigan (Mrs. Bransford)

There’s something marvelously macabre about Warren Beatty playing Howard Hughes. The notoriously eccentric millionaire had already destroyed RKO Pictures, the studio that had produced Citizen Kane and the Astaire-Rogers musicals and launched Robert Mitchum’s career, when the rising young Beatty discovered that Hughes was investigating his activities. This was the early ‘60s; Beatty never found out why Howard Hughes was interested in him.


Now Beatty is the eccentric Hollywood legend, making a film because he still has the power to do so. In Rules Don’t Apply—a title that fits him and Hughes to a “t”—he not only casts himself as the older Hollywood legend, he decides to make him a figure in a romantic comedy.

While Beatty nominally takes the lead, much of the romance in Rules Don’t Apply revolves around a much younger duo, Lily Collins a Hughes starlet, Maria Mabrey and Alden Ehrenreich as Frank Forbes, a chauffeur working for the great man who eventually becomes his personal assistant. Thrown together as a chauffeur and starlet, their paths continue to be entangled as both move up Hughes’ crazy hierarchy.

Rules Don’t Apply shuttles back and forth between recycling old tales of how the increasingly crazy Hughes ran down RKO and the gradually developing romance between the straight laced Baptist Maria and Frank, the initially innocent chauffeur. Before their mutual passion can be satisfied, Hughes intervenes without intending to do so. Ever the narcissist, Beatty, like Hughes, can’t imagine every pretty girl not being attracted to him, so the lovely Maria does become involved, quite temporarily but significantly, with her studio boss.


The plot of Rules Don’t Apply is Byzantine to say the least and the film has many slow spots. But there is some humour in the treatment of Hughes and a surprisingly lovely attitude towards the ill-crossed young lovers. If the film didn’t come festooned with the names of Beatty and Hughes on it, one could imagine enjoying it as a quirky comic take on old Hollywood.

But with expectations laden on it, Rules Don’t Apply is unlikely to be given an easy pass by critics or the public. That’s a shame if only because Lily Collins and Alden Ehrenreich are so good in the film. As it is, this film may be remembered more as a bit of a folly for Beatty than for its often-delightful comic moments.

Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus

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