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It's been 15 years since Warren Beatty has directed a motion picture, with the disastrous Town and Country looking to be the film that drove him into retirement. Yet when Rules Don't Apply was announced as the latest effort from the legendary writer / director / actor, it looked like he'd have a chance to redeem himself. A romantic comedy about classic Hollywood with an all-star cast? Seems like an easy base hit for Beatty, the man who brought us Dick Tracy, Bugsy, and Love Story. Unfortunately, not only does Beatty fail to revive his long dormant career with this mess of a film, he may have dug the hole a little deeper.
Frank (Alden Ehrenreich) and Marla (Lily Collins) are just a couple of crazy kids who are relatively new to the madness that is Hollywood. Though, they're even newer to the madness that is Howard Hughes (Warren Beatty,) their mutual, enigmatic employer. With romance in the air, their professional and personal relationship will get more complicated as the years go by, but can their fondness survive the whims of the eccentric Hughes?
If there was one ingredient that could be singled out of the entire mess that is Rules Don't Apply, it's the editing. The end result feels like a film that's missing a ton of footage that actually tells the story of the film's supposed plot. So instead of telling a coherent story of young love in a time of great insanity, we're left with what amounts to collage of full-fledged scenes that don't amount to anything near a full picture. The confusion only grows with the massive shifts in tone, and the revolving door cast of notable faces that you expect to stick around for more than one or two scenes. Unlike most films without a focus, the problem with Rules Don't Apply is that there's too many ideas and not enough time spent on any of them.
And yet, the central performances of Ehrenreich and Collins manage to provide some much needed entertainment, as both actors are more than game to attempt to carry the picture themselves. While the film's jumbled story doesn't do them any favors, watching the pair interact on screen is a real treat. Individually, Lily Collins does a beautiful job of portraying a young woman coming into her own through some trying circumstances, while Alden Ehrenreich only further proves that he's got the chops of a leading man with his interactions with co-star Warren Beatty. If you're looking forward to the young Han Solo spin-off, you're going to see a lot of the reasons why he landed the gig.
Ultimately, the audience for Rules Don't Apply is a hard segment to peg. The cast and subject matter are more than targeted at the older demographic, but the story and focus might not exactly leave them smiling. Meanwhile, younger moviegoers that are looking forward to seeing Ehrenreich and Collins do their thing will be sad to see so little be forced to go so far. This film is a comedy with very little laughs and a drama without the stakes required to ground the action. There's still some beautiful visuals and individual moments that can be seen be enjoyed, but if you're looking for a plot that makes sense, you may want to apply elsewhere.