REVIEW: ‘Rules Don’t Apply’ Falls Apart Because Of Scattered Story, Lack Of Focus

Director/Writer Warren Beatty took audiences to 1950s Hollywood in this period piece with a focus on billionaire Howard Hughes.

The film tells the story of two young residents of Los Angeles, Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich) who works as a driver for Hughes and Maria Mabrey (Lily Collins), who the billionaire has hired as an actress in Hollywood.

As the film develops, both characters meet Hughes (played by Beatty) and the movie displays how the billionaire influences the directions of their lives and their relationship.

Beatty’s latest film, unfortunately, is significantly all over the place, making it hard to keep track of how much time has passed in this flick that spans multiple years and also difficult to get invested in these characters. As a result, despite a great setting and excellent craftsmanship, “Rules Don’t Apply” falls flat.

The lack of focus in the picture’s narrative starts right away and doesn’t let up. The story bounces around from being a romance of two people trying to make it in the big city, to a big time affair and then a half-hearted character study into Hughes. It’s fine to have a movie with many things going on, but what’s happening on screen has to be connected and flow with each other to be effective and this film simply doesn’t contain that factor.

The film was especially weakened by the two lead characters’ relationship, since Maria Mabrey is nearly absent in the latter half of the second act and for much of the third act. This, subsequently, takes away a main driving point from the first act creating an unfilled hole in the second half of the picture.

Another flaw in “Rules” is the film seemed to miss a clear direction on its tone, mainly in how it presents Hughes. In a few scenes, the film seems to display Hughes as a somewhat misunderstood figure and even sad at times. However, there were other times where his signs of mental illness are almost played for laughs.

This all comes to a head in the flick’s ending, where the disjointed story threads converge. Ultimately, the movie finishes with a finale that feels inauthentic and leaves an audience without a true grasp of who Hughes really was.

It’s a shame, too, because the cast in this picture were mostly talented across the board. In fact, the three leads, Beatty, Collins and Ehrenreich all have their moments where they bring a great amount of passion and emotion to the screen. Their work remained hindered, though, because of how the film unfolded.

Along with the acting, the other major credit that can be given to the movie is how well the 1950s era was brought to the screen. The set design, the production design and cinematography bring the time period to life and create a rather immersive experience.

Even with these aspects going for it, though, “Rules Don’t Apply” is just too disjointed to really work. Some of the performances and period recreation may be enough for a rental, but nothing more. 2 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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