Rules Don’t Apply review: Warren Beatty returns to the screen for the first time in 16 years with this Hollywood tale of love, power and losing the plot.

Rules Don’t Apply review by Paul Heath, April 2017.

Rules Don't Apply review
Rules Don’t Apply review // Image: Fox

Rules Don’t Apply is a welcomed return to the big-screen for Warren Beatty in his first film since 2001’s Town & Country. Clearly a passion project, in the works since 2001, Beatty not only appears on-screen in the central role of film and aviation legend Howard Hughes, but also scripts and directs (it is his first directorial effort since 1999’s Bulworth).

Not all that well received in its domestic territories from both critics and the cinema-going public, Rules Don’t Apply arrives on UK shores post-Oscars Best Picture mix-up, but the previous negative publicity really shouldn’t deter you from this well constructed, if sometimes stunted comedy drama, a slightly exaggerated take on true events from Tinseltown’s yesteryear.

Rules Don't Apply review
Rules Don’t Apply review // Image: Fox

The film focusses on future Han Solo Alden Ehrenreich’s Frank Forbes, a newly appointed driver for Hollywood mogul Hughes, an employer who he is yet to meet when we’re first introduced to him. One of Forbes’ first tasks is to ensure the safe delivery of aspiring starlet Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins) and her mother Lucy (Annette Bening) to her rented accommodation high in the Hollywood Hills. Obviously instantly attracted to the young Marla, Forbes’ knows full well that if he is to get involved in any kind of romantic trysts with any of Hughes’ contracted actresses, he will immediately be fired – and probably incur the wrath of his childhood sweetheart and fiancée Sarah (Taissa Farmiga), who has remained ‘back home’ in Fresno. Marla, he discovers, is just one of many wannabe fame-hunters employed by Hughes across town, and Beatty’s film examines the relationship that forms between Hughes and Marla, Forbes and Marla, and eventually Hughes and his young driver. Book-ended by a press conference where Hughes is to dial in from a remote location to prove his sanity and debunk a recently published memoir, Beatty’s film is a humorous, very entertaining and totally watchable all the way through, so much so that it’s very difficult to understand why it was so ill-received across the pond.

Rules Don’t Apply is largely set in 1950s and 1960s Hollywood with Beatty employing a mix of archived stock footage as backdrops, as well as rear projection for the extensive scenes set in vehicles transporting the various characters across town. This gives a very classic look to the film, it often reminding one of films from the age in which is set, and while Beatty does use some CGI, mostly for scenes involving many of Hughes’ planes, he always seems to opt for a more traditional method of making things work – which is a refreshing change.

Rules Don't Apply review
Rules Don’t Apply review // Image: Fox

The acting on display is often exceptional, particularly from Ehrenreich and even Beatty himself, and the latter’s return to the screen is hugely welcomed, while the former delivers an effortless turn in his second major Hollywood-set drama, following some exceptional work on the Coen brothers’ Hail Caesar in 2016. There are many cameos in the film, some pretty big stars popping up from time to time, including the likes of Alec Baldwin, Oliver Platt, Martin Sheen, Chace Crawford, Steve Coogan, Ed Harris and many more. While the sudden appearances of the like may have distracted, the opposite occurs and is a welcome addition, the actors relishing the opportunity to work with and alongside one of Hollywood’s true greats.

Rules Don’t Apply does drag in places and a few cuts could have been made here and there to tighten up the pacing, but there’s a lot to like here. A very candid and entertaining peek into Hollywood from a time gone by, mixed with a rather unconventional if slightly exaggerated love triangle which just about doesn’t become too tiring and over-sentimental.

Rules Don’t Apply review, Paul Heath

Rules Don’t Apply is released in UK cinemas on Friday 21st April 2017.

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