Rules Don’t Apply, out in cinemas this Friday (April 21), sees Hollywood legend Warren Beatty play the role of eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes.
Those present at a sell-out Picturehouse Central screening of the film in London may be forgiven for believing Beatty, who also wrote and directed the film, had forgotten to slip out of character when he turned up for a Q&A with knowledgeable and enthusiastic host Edith Bowman.
Without much prompting, Beatty covered Ronald Reagan, Greta Garbo, Richard Nixon, Stanley Kubrick and pornography in a bizarre 40 minute discussion that ranged from aimless storytelling to uncomfortably abrupt responses.
Most of the audience were well past nervous laughter by the time Beatty had answered ‘I don’t know’ for the fifth time.
Through all this, there were still glimpses of charm that made Beatty one of Hollywood’s most desirable figures – and even left some fans chasing his car down the road when he was whisked away. Beatty clearly has the Hollywood aura which Rules Don’t Apply shows Hughes to have had.
The film takes place in 1950’s Hollywood as the beautiful and virginal Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins) arrives in Tinsel town with the promise from Hughes of big-screen stardom.
Along with her God-fearing chaperone mother (Annette Bening), Marla is assigned a handsome young driver called Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich) who also dreams of making it ‘big’ with the help of Hughes – albeit through the less glamourous route of buying real estate in the Mullholland valley.
As the title implies, Frank and Marla defy the strict driver-actress rules and begin to develop a close relationship. But the young dreamers’ mutual desire to impress Hughes puts a strain on their burgeoning romance.
An interesting layer to Frank and Marla’s relationship is their sexually repressed Christian upbringings. This transition, from embracing Bible belt values to indulging in the overt sexuality of Hollywood is something many actors of the time, including Beatty, had to deal with.
He told the audience: ‘I had always wanted to make a film about a romantic relationship at the time when I first went to Hollywood in 1958. The ludicrousness of American puritanical sexual hypocrisy and how much it was in conflict with Hollywood, who were trying to sell sexiness all along.
‘I grew up in Virginia as someone who was very influenced by all that Bible Belt guilt. I asked a very famous person (who I won’t identity) who went through the same thing as a southern Baptist because the consummation of that horrendous act happened late. I asked how long it had taken to get over that and he said “about twenty minutes”. I’ve always found the subject sad and funny.’
Once this romantic ‘obstacle’ is played out, Frank and Marla take a backseat to the antics of Hughes for much of the second half of the movie. Beatty, whose last film was Town and Country (2001), clearly revels in this outlandish and comedic part, which bar a few entertaining moments is largely exhausting.
He explained his decision to include Hughes in the film: ‘I did think he would be a terrifically funny character to cause things to happen and not happen. I never met him but I like to think I knew everyone who had met him. The people who knew him did like him a lot.’
After mentioning his long-held lusting for Garbo once again, Beatty got back on track: ‘There was a sort of fictitious mystery that would not be possible today with the technology we deal with today. There is so much information that is so distracting from the attempt to find depth. I’m talking about the news which is now entertainment.’
Funnily enough, Beatty’s dominant performance distracts from fine efforts by Lily Collins and Alden Ehrenreich (set to play a younger version of Harrison Ford’s Star Wars character Han Solo next year). The film certainly suffers as a result.
When asked about the duo, Beatty did offer praise and some insight into his approach to casting.
He said: ‘I believe in something called the blink. That the unconscious knows a hell of a lot more that the conscious because it’s had a lot of years to be there. Sometimes the more you study a situation the less you know. Particularly when it comes to your concept of a character.’
‘A lot of people say character is plot but then casting is character, so then casting becomes plot. It didn’t take a long time to cast Lily and Alden. I was very struck by their level of integrity and that they were both good actors.’
Another actor he cast for the Rules Don’t Apply is his wife Annette Bening. After praising her fantastic film 20th Century Women (read my review here), Beatty endorsed the prospect of her moving behind the camera.
He commented: ‘I feel she should direct. We are seeing a real breakthrough now with female directors. What would I say to try to be impressive? I think it’s the biggest thing happening in the world right now is the liberation and empowerment of the female. Next question.’
As for Beatty, he expects to make more films with his four children soon to fly the nest. He compared the process of making films to vomiting: ‘It’s not that I like vomiting, I really don’t like to vomit and I don’t vomit very often but sometimes I’ll feel better if I just throw up.’
Rules Don’t Apply certainly is not Beatty’s prettiest pile of vomit – indeed, it left me feeling underwhelmed.
I put it down to rustiness – and hope this Hollywood icon will throw up something cinematically special in the future.
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