TV MAY GET all the shine nowadays, but old-fashioned movie-star charisma goes a long way. Case in point: Warren Beatty, who’s returned to movies after a 15-year hiatus. He wrote, directed, and stars in Rules Don’t Apply, a wholly fictitious movie about billionaire Howard Hughes (Beatty) that foregrounds a forbidden romance between two of Hughes’ employees, starlet-in-the-making Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins) and her driver Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich). Narratively, the movie’s a mess. But like a bowl of melted ice cream—in this case, Hughes’ preferred flavor, Baskin-Robbins’ Banana Nut—it’s still pretty delicious. That’s largely due to Beatty, who’s as fun to watch onscreen as he’s ever been. It’s really good to have him back.
The movie plays hard and loose with the facts, using Hughes’ notorious eccentricities for comic relief. Not all the pieces fit together. The choppy beginning, in particular, feels like it was drastically cut down to make the movie a reasonable length (the credits boast four editors, probably not a good sign). But as Beatty’s fable unfolds, it becomes a winning period piece anchored by the super-charismatic Collins and Ehrenreich. (It’s also interrupted by a crazily long list of cameos, à la Beatty’s Dick Tracy. Alec Baldwin and Ed Harris barely register, but Steve Coogan and Oliver Platt steal their scenes.)
The story barely matters. Marla and Frank like each other in an aw-shucks kind of way, but the increasingly erratic Hughes makes their blossoming romance difficult. With clever use of archival footage, Rules Don’t Apply inhabits the Tinseltown of yesteryear—but if that sounds like escapism, it also has the very pertinent message that erratic billionaires can't be trusted. Most importantly, it gives us back Beatty, and that's as good a reason as I can think of to go see a movie.