No doubt he’s an odd duck, but wildly intelligent.
That much I was certain of even before my dear wife Karen and I took in the Black Friday 6:50 p.m. showing of Rules Don’t Apply in the Regal Cinemas’ theater at Syracuse mega shopping, dining and entertainment complex Destiny USA.
When I left after the 2-hour, 6-minute romantic comedy about a five-year yarn in the life of eccentric Howard Hughes directed and co-written (with Bo Goldman) by Warren Beatty, I truly wondered who quacked more. Was the way Hughes ran RKO Pictures and his airline company weirder than the way the 79-year-old Beatty took this lead role in his own project, his first leading man position on the big screen in 15 years?
And mostly I liked the movie. (Especially after all three other people in the theater with us left a half-hour in. Two of them had never stopped talking from the time my dear wife and I sat down before the previews had started, despite my voiced plea to please stop some 10 minutes into the feature. Karen went out to the ticket taker and registered a concern and was told somebody would come in to check it out, but nobody did.)
The story starts in 1964, with a government committee waiting for a call from Hughes to debunk a book-writer’s claim that he’s totally bonkers and unfit to run any of his prodigious financial affairs. The billionaire, meanwhile, is in full recluse mode, even from his knot of trusted handlers …
Cut to 1958, in a beautiful Hollywood, when an aspiring starlet and her mother arrive fresh from Virginia, with one of Hughes’ new drivers depositing her in one of his many awe-inspiring homes set aside for his stable of contract actresses.
Marla can’t believe her eyes. Her mother is more cautious. Driver Frank tries to act wiser than he really is.
Frank knows the rules, passed down from immediate boss Levar. Seemingly most important to main man Hughes is that drivers are not allowed to canoodle with the starlets. Innuendo has it that the boss does enough of this himself, mom warns daughter. (Fun, since mom is played by Beatty’s real-life wife, Annette Bening.)
Too much time goes by without Marla meeting Hughes, or getting her screen test, and they squawk, to Frank and Howard’s main office worker. (A bit part handled wonderfully and graciously by Candice Bergen, one of many older big names that Beatty convinced to take small roles, including Ed Harris, Dabney Coleman, Martin Sheen and Paul Sorvino.)
Frank pulls over on the side of the road and admits that he, too, has never met Hughes. The bond gets stronger.
Voila. It’s a love story. Lily Collins is part sweet, part tough, part smart, as Marla’s character unfolds.
Alden Ehrenreich is part tough, part tender, part dumb about girls but equally smart about life as Frank’s life gets weirder because of Howard’s rules. Hey, she can sing a little bit, and he can look some like the young James Dean. Together, the chemistry works until it can’t.
Beatty, you see, doesn’t want it to be only a love story. He wants it also to be a rollicking look into the mind of Hughes.
That strange world, and Beatty’s interpretation of it, has its ups and downs. At 79, he’s about two decades older than Hughes was at this point of time, and, well, his involvement, real and imagined, with the starlets … yeah. And his straddling of the psychiatric line between strait-jacket or dinner-jacket worthy can turn a tad tiresome.
Fortunately, even when Beatty circles the story back to the 1964 start, the love story satisfying wins at the end.
What’s your favorite Warren Beatty movie and why? What’s your favorite Annette Bening movie and why? What would you do if you complained about constant talkers to movie theater mananagement and they did nothing about it?