Rules Don’t Apply (12A)

★★
This visually handsome but rather slight and shambolic film whisks us back to the glamourous world of late 1950s Hollywood where wide-eyed aspiring actress Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins) begins working for famed and eccentric billionaire entrepreneur Howard Hughes (Warren Beatty, who also writes and directs).

Her new employment, against the will of her protective mother Lucy (Annette Bening), brings her into the life of driver Frank Forbes (rising star Alden Ehrenreich). Although contractually forbidden to start any sort of relationship, the two of them become besotted with one another which inevitably causes workplace tensions to arise.

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On Beatty’s own word this was never intended to be a full on, 100 per cent accurate biopic of that most singular of recent American historical figures; it opens with Hughes quote to “never check an interesting fact.”

Nevertheless it can’t help but feeling like one as we go through the motions of showcasing the manner in which he lived his life and the effect it had on those bound – whether legally, financially or through sheer admiration – to stay near him.

At the same time it also tries to be a heartfelt, achingly romantic tale of blossoming love set against the already romanticized backdrop of old Hollywood. It almost takes on the tone of an old-fashioned musical in many of those scenes but just without the songs, the rather thin material elevated by an amiable pair of actors in Collins and Ehrenreich.

Beatty imbues Hughes with depth of feeling, even if the characterisation oversimplifies him into a series of ticks and insecurities. Since he’s rather side-lined in a story that wouldn’t exist without him, you don’t really feel like you get to know him, either as a public figure idolised for his wealth, power and glamour, nor as a troubled private citizen hidden behind that showy façade.

It also never fully or satisfyingly explores Hughes questionable behaviour and how it’s accepted as the norm of the time. For example, his blatant misogyny in his hiring of a parade of young women he keeps on the books is skimmed over but never really delved into.

Although well-intentioned and not without a sense of charm, Beatty’s film feels altogether too surface level to truly dig into all that it throws into the mix, from the nature of fame and what place romance has amidst it all to how and why Hughes’ behaviour became his undoing.

It’s certainly nothing that Martin Scorsese didn’t explore more interestingly or thoroughly in The Aviator.

The dual approach may be admirable but the push-pull dichotomy between the romance and the biopic-esque style is its fatal flaw.