Rules Don’t Apply came and went this past awards season, but there is now a Blu-ray here for this latest Howard Hughes biopic. Produced, written and directed by Warren Beatty, nearly twenty years after his last directorial effort, Bulworth, the film serves as a semi-fictional biopic, a screwball comedy and a drama all rolled into one. Coming from an idea Beatty started developing 40 years ago, the film is a clear passion project and despite all the various issues involving tone and narrative construction, I dug it. Beatty and his four editors have assembled a messy film out of what is likely a ton of footage, but it was never uninteresting, features some terrific performances and even buries some interesting themes amidst all the Hughes-focused chaos.
Beatty stars as Hughes, but we don’t really meet with him until about 20 minutes in. The real leads are Alden Ehrenreich as Frank Forbes and Lily Collins as Marla Mabrey. Frank is one of Hughes’ drivers with ambitions to be a businessman and a devout Methodist. Marla is an aspiring actress brought to Hollywood to be one of the women under Hughes’ RKO contracts and a devout Baptist. The religious aspect is important, as they both hold onto their convictions, despite the obvious attraction they have to each other. This is made even more difficult by both Hughes’ rules, which prohibit romantic interaction between his employees and what happens once Hughes finally enters the picture.
Shot to look lavish (aside from some occasionally clear CG) and deliberately old school (look at those rear projection driving scenes) by acclaimed cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, Rules Don’t Apply joins Hail, Caesar! and Café Society as 2016 films that present the Golden Age of Hollywood in ways that allow the style to overtake the narrative. That said, all three of these films (regardless of quality and varying opinions) represent the filmmakers behind them. For Rules Don’t Apply, this is another sprawling effort from Beatty, who loads the film with recognizable actors and does what he can to tell the story of an edgy and sometimes charming individual.
It is important to note that the film is hardly factual, as far as being a biopic that delves into Hughes’ actual life. It is certainly inspired by Hughes’ life and features certain character and events that took place, but the film is less about getting all the details right and more about providing a look at this man’s personality in a lighter way and some romantic shenanigans also going on. Between this film and Martin Scorsese’s more fact-based The Aviator, the only thing they have in common is how little Beatty and DiCaprio actually look like Hughes. With that in mind, does this path lead to a good film?
It is a bit complicated, but Rules Don’t Apply has a lot going for it, especially in the first half. While the rushed editing style dares to throw the film off course almost immediately, it is the endearing work from both Ehrenreich and Collins that keeps things afloat. Not hurting are the early appearances of Annette Bening and Martin Sheen, along with Matthew Broderick who stays around the whole way through as Levar, one of Hughes’ more loyal men. It is the banter that helps move this thing along and keep up a peppiness that makes one appreciate what’s taking place on a screwball level.
Then we get to Hughes. Beatty hasn’t been on screen since the 2001 box office disaster that was Town & Country, but the 79-year old actor is completely game to play all of the facets of who Hughes was. This means playing up the quirks, the social awkwardness, the mystery and frustrations that made the man what he was in the later period of his life. There is an enigmatic quality that Beatty and Hughes seem to share and that is certainly played up here as far as making a presence that is felt within the film’s two hour runtime.
Sadly, the film does get hung up on how to best handle all of its pieces. The romantic comedy stuff is fun, even if it does lead to misunderstandings and bold proclamations (and a song) that allows for the film’s title to be stated with unintentionally humorous meaning. There is also the large portion of the film where Marla basically disappears and leaves us with Hughes and Frank dealing with business and the tycoon’s idiosyncrasies (mainly demands for different ice cream flavors). That, along with the fact that Marla is wooed over by a man as old as her grandfather, makes for a film that spends a lot of its time in territory that almost seems purposefully satirical.
The self-serious nature of the film’s drama and the business-related antics seem reflective of what Hollywood and society used to be and still sort of is. Rules Don’t Apply doesn’t seem to be overly concerned with getting deeper with ideas it introduces about Hughes’ treatment of women and his popularity when it comes to dealing with how he uses his money and interacts with other companies. That’s a shame, as the film sees Beatty having fun in spite of his narrative having a lack of much cohesion when it comes time to bringing the romance, drama and business-focused stakes together. Sure, there is a Hollywood ending that feels in line with the film’s Rules Don’t Apply wants to partially emulate, but I could only wish it was stronger in bringing together the other major elements.
Still, for all the ways the film complicates itself and strays from its initial focus, there is an entertaining film here. It’s a bit of a mess, but a fun one that doesn’t require the same sort of scrutiny that would be necessary for something like Beatty’s Reds. Rules Don’t Apply is a farce that plays by some old school rules. We don’t see that kind of film much anymore. It may have a certain sensibility that calls to question how we look at things today versus what the 1950s were like, but I have a sneaking suspicion Beatty is smart enough to know that. It just also means, warts and all, he chose to accept the film he has made. Fortunately for me, that Beatty charm allows for different types of chemistry to shine throughout this flawed feature.
Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Clarity/Detail: Regardless of how long this production took and what the end results were, there is no denying the solid level of style and production design thanks to the veteran talent Beatty brought in for Rules Don’t Apply. It plays well for this Blu-ray, which does a fine job of bringing out the many rich details for a period film. Some of the more obvious visual effects come off a bit soft, but it matters little for an image so clear.
Depth: Good spacing seen throughout this film. The depth and distance is well-handled for this video transfer.
Black Levels: Black levels are deep and inky throughout. No signs of crush and the numerous indoor scenes shrouded in darkness, at Hughes request, plays well on this Blu-ray.
Color Reproduction: Colors really pop here. Thanks to the depiction of the 1950s and 60s, you get a great idea of the times through this wonderful use of color. Lots or primary color work, as well as other neutral tones to make this transfer play quite well for the home release.
Flesh Tones: Facial textures register strongly here. You get a lot of close ups that do their job to reflect the actors properly. A good amount of detail fairs very well with the design of the film in general.
Noise/Artifacts: Nothing of note.
Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Dynamics: This 5.1 track does plenty to bring to life the dialogue-heavy work found in this film’s audio mix. There are also some nice tunes and scoring to be heard, which plays well with the rest of the film.
Low Frequency Extension: Thanks to some scenes involving flight and driving around, Rules Don’t Apply has its share of moments that play with the LFE channel.
Surround Sound Presentation: A good balance is had on this track. The dialogue is obviously center-focused, but the film’s production allows for a spreading of the other auditory elements, which plays very well for this film.
Dialogue Reproduction: Everyone is loud and clear.
Given the amount of time it took for Beatty to finally complete this film, one would have hoped he’d have something more significant to offer as far as bonus features go. Sadly, this Blu-ray only features an EPK and some trailers.
- This Is Rules Don’t Apply (HD, 21:30) – A standard EPK with the cast and crew, with Beatty singing the praises of everyone involved.
- Music Video: “The Rules Don’t Apply” Performed by Lily Collins (HD, 2:19)
- Gallery (HD)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:30)
- Sneak Peaks (HD)
- DVD Copy of the Film
- Digital HD Copy of the Film
I wouldn’t bet on history changing its mind much on Rules Don’t Apply. The film is enjoyable to a point, but found understandable criticisms in terms of what it really had to offer and the tonal balance. Still, there are some solid performances and a level of production that is represented well on a technical level for this Blu-ray release. Ideally there would have been more special features to dig into, but the film is at least worth a rental for those interested in what Beatty has been up to.