Proud to say that I went to see ‘Rules Don’t Apply’ and thoroughly enjoyed it, laughing many times. I was predisposed to liking it anyway because even Beatty’s serious films can be very funny (John Reed’s “speech” in ‘Reds’, explaining World War I to a room full of expectant onlookers, for example) but, as critic Stephen Holden said, it was almost like a screwball Citizen Kane.
I always think of the little seen, little-loved but actually hilarious ‘The Fortune’ (1975) regarding Beatty. According to someone on IMDb, the Coen brothers have said that it’s in their top 5 of all time and that’s no shock when you watch the film. The Fortune is a screwball comedy; as is Hail, Caesar!; as is Burn After Reading; as is Rules Don’t Apply. It must be one of the most dangerous, love-it-or-hate-it genres extant. I like the Coens but, for me, those have to be their two worst films, yet both movies have many admirers. Seeing both their ‘Burn After Reading’ and ‘Hail, Caesar!’, I came out of the cinema in a foul mood. Both reminded me of that feeling when you’re in a social setting and someone’s ‘holding the floor’ with their humour and everyone else seems to find them funny…except you: a frustrating, annoying feeling.
Evidently, few liked ‘The Fortune’ and ‘Rules Don’t Apply’ got a critical hammering in the U.S. before, as Trump would say, “dying like a dog” at the box office. Making back three and a half million against a budget of $25,000,000. (Not only did the short-fingered, orange bandit’s Secretary of the Treasury, Steve Mnuchin, produce the film but he shows up in the movie as well, sad to say.). Comedies tend to be a walk on a knife’s edge anyway but screwball comedies even more so, so I can understand why people didn’t like it, I’d just completely disagree with them.
Lily Collins was just stupendous; never a false note from her. She’s the daughter of musician, Phil Collins and, having first seen her in the British romantic comedy ‘Love, Rosie’, it was impressive to hear her American accent in this film when her ‘Home Counties’ accent in ‘Love. Rosie’ seemed so convincing. Later, when watching her interviewed on some U.S. late night talk show, it seems that her natural voice is – to my non-attuned, European ears – almost along the lines of Moon Unit Zappa’s ‘Valley Girl’ satire but her ‘Rules Don’t Apply’ accent is different again. And she’s one of the few who can successfully act drunk: she knew that drunks strive to be understood, not for incoherence, but everyone else was on their game too and the film’s tricks in conveying the time period were all impressive indeed.
I think that the film had a Malick-style four editors credited and was ‘in the can’ two years ago. One could tell that it had been edited with extreme precision: two or three sequences collapsed time with such a deft efficiency when other films would have dragged their feet. Sometimes constant revision can bleed the lifeforce out of something but, at other times, it keeps notching up the quality level ever higher. To me, it felt that the overall had been gone over a million times with nothing left in that didn’t need to be there. No slack: which is as it should be yet can often be quite rare.
I’m somewhat vexed at this notion of the film being an exercise in narcissistic indulgence for Beatty himself when he played a bonkers, babbling, insane, dishevelled mess whose one act of copulation saw him left dazed, with his trousers left around his knees.
There’s an fantastic, long-form piece from Peter Biskind in Vanity Fair ‘Thunder on the Left: The Making of ‘Reds’ and that mentions how when the director of ‘Reds’, Warren Beatty, would green light which of the multiple takes of his star, Warren Beatty, should be used, he’d avoid the ones which underlined his own face’s ‘crow’s feet’, even if they were the scene’s best line reading. With that; and with the natural narcissism that’s probably part of the territory when becoming a Hollywood star; and that he’s probably the person about whom the great tune ‘You’re So Vain’ was written. there’s probably some validity to Beatty the person having such character traits but as to Beatty the actor? I don’t see it. In ‘Rules Don’t Apply’ and the mighty ‘Bulworth’, for example, he seems the antithesis of the vain actor, perfectly willing, extremely enthusiastic at the idea of making himself that butt of the joke.
As an aside, Beatty’s one of the few film-makers who still has credit sequences which name the actors in alphabetical order. Woody Allen is the only one of whom I can think along these lines and, like Beatty, his own surname will end up near the top anyway but not always. If memory serves, Alec Baldwin got that honour for ‘Rules Don’t Apply’. How names are billed probably comes as part of a star’s contract now (indeed, that’s perhaps been the case for some years) but that Beatty goes against that convention suggests that he finds it important not to place the actors in too much of a hierarchy: again, an argument against him being painted as an overt narcissist.
But I enjoyed ‘Rules Don’t Apply’ very much, with the caveat is that it probably won’t work for many; in the way that those – I thought – dire, headache-inducing, smug, lazy Coen brothers films mentioned above didn’t work for me either. Its freewheeling style would be more apt for arthouses than multiplexes, perhaps.
Kudos to Warren Beatty for sticking with it for so long (his wikipedia page said that he first got backing for a Howard Hughes bio-pic back in the 1970s); for being brave enough to present it in such a dangerous, non-comfort-zone-residing way; and for, I think, giving us an excellent piece of work. Hope we get a few more from him.