It has been 15 years since Warren Beatty acted in a movie, and an even longer 18 years since he wrote, directed and produced one (the still very prescient 1998 political satire Bulworth). Now we have Rules Don’t Apply, the picture in which he finally gets to play Howard Hughes. He’s been toying around with the idea of Hughes for a movie actually for over 50 years, and now it has gestated into this often very funny, sometimes pointed, sometimes poignant film that marches to its own drummer, and for that I for one am very thankful this holiday weekend.

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What Beatty has concocted out of his decades-long fascination with Hughes isn’t remotely a biopic about the man, though the role is a large one. Still, the plot revolves around two young people working for the eccentric billionaire. One is driver Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich), a young man new in the Hollywood of 1958, from a fairly puritanical religious upbringing and engaged to be married. The other is Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins), a young wannabe actress under contract to HH, also from a similar religious background, arriving in Hollywood with her strict mother (Annette Bening). Complications arise as the two youngsters form something of a mutual attraction for one another but also find Hughes landing right in the middle.

For Marla, a self-described virgin, her troubles mount as she awaits the screen test from Hughes that never seems to materialize; she is one of many starlets he has lined up. The film darts back and forth between these characters and Hughes’ own oddities, most notably after he almost dies in a plane crash, but Beatty beautifully navigates the tone of this film from farce to amusing to somewhat bittersweet in parts. There are lots of quick scenes.

Beatty the writer also seems to have a lot to say about the sexual mores of the period, and in fact freely admits there is a bit of himself in the Frank character, who came to Hollywood the same time as Beatty. There also is a connection that Beatty admits between his first film, 1961’s Splendor In The Grass from director Elia Kazan, and Rules Don’t Apply, with both touching on American puritanism and sexual repression, albeit decades apart. Splendor dealt with it in the early 1960s in a story set 30 years earlier, just as Rules confronts it now in a movie set 57 years ago. He’s making a statement on the more things change, the more they don’t, especially in relation to the sexual freedom in Europe as opposed to the more uptight America.

Rules Don't Apply

But actuallyas I say in my video review above, this view of the intersection of Hollywood and Hughes circa late-1950s is a hugely entertaining and smart motion picture — exactly what you might expect from Beatty, who has not lost any of his screen charisma despite the absence and the fact he is now 79 years old (but believably playing Hughes who was then in his 50s). His casting of the two young leads is perfection, with Collins (daughter of singer Phil Collins) a completely winning young star reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn in some ways. Ehrenreich is also ideally chosen as a guy putting up with a rather nutty boss, but also trying to deal with conflicted feelings. This is a movie about love, sex, romance, holding back, letting go, and everything in between. As you might expect, Beatty was able to also put together a fantastic supporting cast including the likes of Bening, Alec Baldwin, Matthew Broderick, Oliver Platt, Martin Sheen, Candice Bergen, Paul Sorvino and many others in and out all too quickly.

In re-creating the Hollywood of a lost era Beatty clearly remembers, the director has gathered an exemplary team of pros including cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, production designer Jeannine Oppewall, and costume designer Albert Wolsky. There’s a nice original title song played liltingly throughout the film to great effect. With 16 producer credits I will only say Beatty is the most important here, but Arnon Milchan’s New Regency was a key player in getting this off the ground — this is the first independently financed film the legendary star has put together and apparently it took a village.

20th Century Fox releases it wide today. It is great to have Warren Beatty back where he belongs.

Do you plan on seeing Rules Don’t Apply? Let us know what you think.