BY ROGER THOMAS
Growing up, we all knew who Howard Hughes was. He was one of the richest people in the world and we all wanted to be him. He died in April of 1976, one month before my thirteenth birthday, and everyone I knew joked about being in his will.
A year later, there was a mini-series made for television entitled “The Amazing Howard Hughes.” Tommy Lee Jones played Hughes. That mini-series, accurate or not, educated me about the billionaire. Twenty-seven years later, in 2004, Martin Scorsese educated me about Hughes with “The Aviator;” Leonardo DiCaprio played Hughes in that drama.
“Rules Don’t Apply.” is a new version of the Hughes story. Warren Beatty plays Hughes. He also directs the film and wrote the screenplay. “Rules Don’t Apply” differs from the other versions in many ways.
First, “Rules” is much more light-hearted than the other films mentioned above. During “Rules” I found myself thinking, this is a comedy. There are some serious moments and issues, but for the most part, every scene is played more for laughs than drama.
Another difference is that perspective of the film. Certainly, Hughes is a major player; some are busy stating that Beatty should get a Best Actor nomination, however, I would call his role a supporting one. The leads in the film, from my perspective, are Lily Collins and Alden Ehrenreich. Collins plays Marla Mabrey, an aspiring actress under contract with Hughes’ studio. Ehrenreich plays Frank Forbes, a young man who drives for Hughes and ends up doing much more for his boss through the years. Beatty, Forbes and Mabrey, all three shine in the film and the strength of this trio elevates what could have been a lesser film in the hands of other actors.
Another strength of the film is the reconstruction of a time gone by. The Hollywood of another era is wonderfully depicted. The film is set in a different time, and a great many technicians created an environment that is authentic and a wonder to behold. Cars, hotels, streets, and so many other settings takes one back to a different era.
In case you are wondering, the title “Rules Don’t Apply,” means more than one thing. Needless to say, billionaire Hughes lived like there were no rules for him; he could do and say whatever he wanted. And he usually did. Before I saw the film, I understood the title. However, there is also a very nice song in the film, sung twice, be Lily Collins; the song is also titled “Rules Don’t Apply.” If this is an original song, it may well get an Oscar nomination.
Beyond the three leads, the film is filled with a vast cast including Alec Baldwin, Ed Harris, Annette Bening, Matthew Broderick, Marty Sheen, Oliver Platt and Candice Bergen, just to name a few.
With all this said, I liked eighty percent of the film. However there was one glaring weakness to the whole, it lasted too long. The film is 126 minutes. Rumor has it that the original cut was closer to three hours. That would have been a mistake. After about ninety minutes, I was ready for the climax. I had enjoyed much of what I had seen, but it was becoming tiresome, both the story and the characters that populated it. I was still rooting for the young couple to end up together. I was still waiting to see how the film would depict the aging Hughes. But I wanted it to conclude soon. Instead, I had to sit through about twenty more minutes than the story needed.
Oh well, the mini-series “The Amazing Howard Hughes” was 215 minutes. “The Aviator” was 170 minutes. Maybe I should not complain about 126 minutes.