Warren Beatty has reportedly been developing a film about reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes since the 1970s, but the passion project didn’t really begin to take shape until a few years ago when Beatty, who has lately become a bit of a recluse himself, teamed up with Oscar-winning screenwriter Bo Goldman to work on the script. Marking Beatty’s first directorial effort since 1998’s “Bulworth” and his first acting role since 2001’s “Town & Country,” “Rules Don’t Apply” is a clumsy and tonally uneven period piece that was likely spoiled by years of tinkering during its lengthy development process. Although it won’t harm his reputation too badly, it’s nonetheless a disappointing comeback that suggests Beatty should have stuck to retirement.
The year is 1959, and small-town beauty queen Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins) has arrived in Los Angeles with her devoted mother (Annette Bening) after she’s invited by Hollywood producer Howard Hughes (Beatty) to audition for his upcoming movie. What they don’t realize is that Marla is only one of many young women that Hughes has under contract for the unknown role, with each wannabe actress provided their own house and chauffeured around town to acting and dancing classes while they await their opportunity to meet the enigmatic figure. Marla’s assigned driver, aspiring real estate developer Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich), hasn’t even met his boss yet, but they’re both captivated by Hughes and realize what working for him can do for their careers. Despite a rule prohibiting any employee from becoming intimate with one of Hughes’ contract actresses, Marla and Frank begin to form an attraction, only to see their budding relationship threatened when they’re welcomed into Hughes’ inner circle and get caught up in the excitement and drama that it brings.