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Is Warren Beatty’s Alden Ehrenreich-Starrer ‘Rules Don’t Apply’ Too Funny for Oscar?

In Hollywood, few comedic directors squeak past the Academy's high regard for serious drama. Will Warren Beatty be one of them?

Rules Don't Apply

“Rules Don’t Apply”

20th Century Fox

Warren Beatty is a known entity in Hollywood. He’s a brilliant and controlling writer-director-producer-star who will talk anyone’s ear off. He’s indecisive. He will take as much time as he can get to burnish a movie to glossy perfection. And he’s hell-bent on success. That’s why he’s Warren Beatty.

But he’s less well known to the general moviegoing public.

While he’s consistently brilliant, from “Heaven Can Wait” and “Bonnie and Clyde” to “Dick Tracy,” he’s also known for dramatic box office highs and lows. He’s had amazing successes, such as 1982 classic period romance “Reds,” which won three Oscars (including Beatty’s only win, as Best Director). Over the decades Beatty has been nominated for 14 Oscars, and received the Thalberg Award. But he also starred in such over-budget flops as $90-million “Town and Country” (2001, $6 .7 million domestic), which was “directed by Peter Chelsolm,” not to mention Elaine May’s “Ishtar.” He wrangled final cut on Fox’s 1998 racial comedy “Bulworth,” which was a sophisticated success d’estime that cost $30 million and yielded $26.5 million—which means it also lost money. But Beatty did nab an original screenplay Oscar nomination with Jeremy Pikser.

The question is, what has Beatty wrought with his $26.7 million Howard Hughes biopic “Rules Don’t Apply,” which is ready to be unveiled at film festivals this fall? Well, one place to start is Fox’s just-released trailer. There is much to be gleaned, knowing that every image and cut can be deconstructed for meaning.

Rules Don't Apply

“Rules Don’t Apply”

20th Century Fox

First of all, clearly Beatty, Fox motion picture chiefs Jim Gianopulos and Stacey Snider, and New Regency CEO Arnon Milchan (as he did with “The Revenant,” he financed the movie himself) are in agreement on one thing. Selling new Han Solo Alden Ehrenreich, who landed raves in the Coen brothers’ “Hail, Caesar!”, is the way to go. Not 79-year-old Beatty, who stars in the film as powerful and eccentric aviator and movie mogul Howard Hughes (remember Leonardo DiCaprio as “The Aviator”), who makes an icky play for a rising young actress played by 27-year-old Lily Collins. Beatty’s movie deals with a neurotic aging mogul in the throes of late-life crisis, but that’s not brought to the forefront.

READ MORE: Warren Beatty Has Finished His Howard Hughes Movie

Thus the trailer puts the budding Hollywood romance between Hughes’ driver (Ehrenreich, described by one person who saw the film as “delicious” and “adorable”)  and one of his contract players (Collins) front and center. You can feel how carefully crafted this trailer is. Not one moment is accidental. A committee of experts have gone over this. They’re carefully balancing a Woody Allen romantic comedy feel with an affectionate Hollywood showbiz milieu (“Café Society” anyone?), which should play right into the Academy’s wheelhouse (see: “Singin’ in the Rain,” “All That Jazz,” “The Artist,” “Birdman”).

The fact that “Birdman” was a comedy did not hurt the movie with Oscar voters. And, like Beatty, Alejandro González Iñárritu had obviously earned major bonafides as an uncompromising artist. Somehow he overcame the negatives of pushing his cast and crew to the brink of madness for the sake of his art. Beatty carries some baggage, too.

But the real question is how goofy and silly “Rules Don’t Apply” turns out to be. It’s great if it’s a satisfying entertainment, but for Oscar contention it needs to rise to the level of a Hal Ashby or James L. Brooks comedy like “Shampoo” or “Broadcast News.” That’s a tough needle to thread. Luckily the movie could play well to one crucial constituency, who understand Beatty’s concerns: The Academy.

Whether “Rules Don’t Apply” (November 23) delivers both commercially and artistically will be revealed at the fall festivals. But if the movie veers too far toward broad comedy, it could wind up competing at the Golden Globes —and nowhere else.

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