Warren Beatty tells you he didn’t make a Howard Hughes movie.
Listen, Warren Beatty made a Howard Hughes movie. In “Rules Don’t Apply,” which he wrote and directed, Beatty plays Howard Hughes circa 1958. Beatty has worked on this movie for years. He was almost thwarted by Martin Scorsese’s “The Aviator,” in which Leonardo DiCaprio played a younger Hughes. But you know what? There was room for more than one Howard Hughes movie. For Beatty, rules don’t apply. And I’m so glad he made this movie.
The funniest part of “Rules Don’t Apply,” which opens November 23rd and opened the AFI Film Festival last night, is that Beatty steals his own movie like it or not. He created a young star crossed couple with two really talented up and coming actors– Alden Ehrenreich and Lily Collins. (The former is going to be the new young Han Solo. The latter is like a new Audrey Hepburn, and she can sing!)
But in the end, it’s Beatty as a kind of going crazy Hughes who is both full of pathos and humor. And when the movie bends to Hughes’s will– and Beatty’s– those are the very best moments. Two scenes in particular may kick Beatty into the Oscar race for Best Actor– a hilarious one with Matthew Broderick that elicits belly laughs from the audience; and another with Collins that’s very sad and revealing.
Is everything about Hughes in “Rules” true? No. Or rather, it’s an imagined story about someone for whom truth was a stretch and facts were scant. But smartly Beatty and Bo Goldman have taken just enough tidbits about the reclusive, elusive Hughes and made an entertaining story about Hollywood just as sexual repression was about to explode. The time — 1958– is that of Doris Day and Rock Hudson, and “Pillow Talk” moments before the dam burst, so to speak. It would be another 16 years before Beatty himself, a sex symbol, sent himself up and put all his cards on the table with the classic, “Shampoo.” But in 1958, here was the struggle between good and evil as Hollywood tried to grow up.
The supporting cast is excellent. Broderick is hilarious, doing his best work here and in the also coming “Manchester by the Sea.” Annette Bening is lovely as Collins’ stage mother leaving her in Sodom and Gomorrah. I really loved an expected cameo from Steve Coogan. Alec Baldwin, Candice Bergen, Taissa Farmiga, Martin Sheen and Oliver Platt all punctuate the film.
I really wish Beatty had made movies in the last sixteen years. But now that he’s back I think he’s energized. And what would really be cool is more movies with Beatty front and center without having to add young people as diversions. They’re fine, but seeing “Rules,” you realize just how good he is. He and cinematographer Caleb Deschanel score here by putting Hughes in shadows and just letting in glimpses of him. But next time, Warren can shine the light more brightly on himself. It’s a tribute to him that he leaps out of those shadows anyway.