Watching this reminded me of when Elizabeth Taylor died. As I was chatting with another critic at a Manhattan screening, the twentysomething publicist asked, “Who’s Elizabeth Taylor?” After years of gestation, Warren Beatty has created an absurdly nostalgic farce about aviation tycoon/film producer Howard Hughes. But do moviegoers remember either of them? Read on…
Beatty’s story begins with “Never check an interesting fact,” a quote attributed to Howard Hughes, known for being the most eccentric, elusive executive in Hollywood, as shown in the 1964 prologue.
Flash back to 1958, when an aspiring actress, virginal Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins), arrives in Hollywood from Virginia with her devoutly Baptist mother (Annette Bening). Marla soon discovers she’s only one of many starlets summoned by Hughes and paid $400 a week to ‘stand by’ for RKO Pictures auditions.
After Marla’s assigned driver, Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich), a pious Methodist with a fiancée in Fresno, recites the strict rules of her contract, he admits he’s never actually met Hughes, although he’s eager to get the mercurial mogul to invest in a real estate deal he’s devised.
As time goes by, Marla gets involved with weirdly obsessive-compulsive Hughes (Warren Beatty), wistfully warbling the title song, as Frank becomes one of Hughes’ most trusted aides. But necessity cools their incipient romance until they both become disappointed by Hughes’ bizarre dream factory.
Scripted by director Beatty (“Bulworth,” “Reds,” “Dick Tracy”) from a story he wrote with Bo Goldman (“Melvin and Howard”), it’s as elegant and enigmatic as its subject. Perhaps more autobiographical than Beatty cares to admit, since he and his sister, Shirley MacLaine, were raised by Baptists in Virginia. But that’s just conjecture.
Charismatic Beatty also receives support from Matthew Broderick, Alec Baldwin, Ed Harris, Martin Sheen and Candice Bergen.
Wall Street’s Steven Mnuchin, President-Elect Donald Trump’s nominee for Treasury Secretary, does a cameo with Oliver Platt, playing financiers kept waiting at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
Other films about Howard Hughes include “The Aviator” (2004), “Tucker: The Man and His Dream” (1988), “Melvin and Howard” (1980) and “Caught” (1949).
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Rules Don’t Apply” is a stylish, yet stilted 6, inevitably culminating in disillusionment.