Rules Don’t Apply is Warren Beatty’s first film as a director since Bulworth in 1998 and his first film as an actor since Town & Country in 2001, two stats that suggest Beatty doesn’t have that much interest in working these days. But Beatty has always been selective, as evidenced by a relatively thin filmography that has more undeniable classics that most actors with twice as many films to their name and a pretty good record as a director, too. It also means that the films that don’t work tend to fall into the “interesting misfire” category, but even these often deserve a second look. (Ishtar became synonymous with failure in the ’80s, but it’s a lot more entertaining than its reputation.) Not taking everything you’re offered frees you up to make Bonnie and Clyde, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, The Parallax View, and Shampoo in a single decade when you do work.
The long-gestating Rules Don’t Apply, however, belongs on the “interesting misfire” pile. Born of Beatty’s long interest in making a film about Howard Hughes, it’s an odd mix of biopic and romantic comedy that moves at a race car’s pace but doesn’t quite know where it wants to go. It’s never dull and or less-than-stylish, thanks in large part to cinematographer Caleb Deschanel’s masterful evocation of classic Hollywood style and the lush period production. It’s one of those movies that feels like its world extends far beyond the boundaries of what we see on screen. A clearly personal work with some obvious connections to the Hollywood of Beatty’s youth and his long stint as the town’s most high profile ladies’ man, it’s bubbly one moment and borderline tragic the next. The film struggles figuring out what it’s trying to say but it does so with a lot of craftsmanship and panache. Call it pleasantly unsatisfying.