Warren Beatty’s fascination with director and aviation tycoon Howard Hughes began in the 1970s, when he saw Hughes in a hotel in Los Angeles. Now, forty years since that encounter and almost twenty years since his last directorial effort, “Rules Don’t Apply,” written, directed, produced and starring Beatty as Hughes himself, finally hits theaters at the end of the month. The film debuted at AFI FEST on the evening of November 10, and the first reviews are praising Beatty’s vision, but craving more substance.
In his review for IndieWire, our own Eric Kohn wrote that, while the film is beautifully rendered, the story tends towards the harmless: “A sweet, old-fashioned Hollywood romance that just so happens to involve Howard Hughes as a supporting character, Beatty’s long-gestating project is a modestly enjoyable, well-acted nostalgia piece with just a touch of edge. As passion projects go, this one’s disarmingly slight in its ambitions, the opposite of Hughes’ legacy in every way.”
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The Guardian’s Jordan Hoffman echoed this sentiment, writing: “‘Rules Don’t Apply’ is an odd and exasperating film, and just thrilled to play in that tiresome sandbox of the late 1950s/early 1960s, when white male voices were the only ones that mattered. But there are long stretches that are brisk and peppy and quite entertaining. It doesn’t make sense as a comedy, it doesn’t quite work as a drama, and it doesn’t follow the typical roadmap of a biopic, but ‘Rules Don’t Apply’ is strangely compelling nonetheless.”
Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter writes: “At once an amusingly eccentric take on a billionaire fixated with controlling others people’s lives and a romance about a young couple constipated by the conservative religious and social sexual mores of the 1950s, this is a fitfully funny quasi-farce that takes off promisingly, loses its way mid-flight and comes in for a bumpy but safe landing.”
Peter Debruge from Variety also praised the film’s visuals, but criticized the restraint of the story: “Overall, though, Beatty tries hard to re-create the look and feel of late-’50s Hollywood as it existed both on-screen and off, aided by DP Caleb Deschanel and terrific costume and set contributions. And yet, it actually comes off too conservative for its own time, with stiff performances from Collins and Ehrenreich, who looks the part of a post-James Dean brooder but lacks the naturalism of the Method style that Dean and his mid-’50s peers ushered in. As a result, ‘Rules’ feels considerably tamer than Beatty’s own acting debut, ‘Splendor in the Grass,’ which occurred just as Hollywood was undergoing both a creative and sexual revolution not yet in evidence here.”
Alonso Duralde of The Wrap took an opposing view, praising Ehrenreich and Collins, while comparing it to Scorsese’s film: “Beatty had long discussed making a Hughes movie, and whether or not ‘The Aviator’ changed his plans to create a straight biopic, ‘Rules Don’t Apply’ winds up being a tale of young love with billionaire-as-oddball-guardian-angel at the margins. Ehrenreich and Collins’s stars have already been on the rise, but they’ve never been displayed to audiences with such love and reverence. It’s a build-up that Hughes himself would admire.”
“Rules Don’t Apply” lands in theaters on November 23.