REVIEW: Rules Don’t Apply

15 11 2016

rules-dont-applyPoor Warren Beatty. The man has been trying to make a passion project about Howard Hughes for the better part of four decades. The film faced significant challenges, including 2004’s biopic collaboration between Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio that nabbed double-digit Oscar nominations.

12 years later, Beatty’s “Rules Don’t Apply” finally makes it to the big screen only to have the misfortune of opening in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidential victory. The timing doesn’t exactly feel right for a mostly breezy, old-fashioned tale about an eccentric and potentially deranged billionaire who wants to control women’s bodies and limit their personal freedoms. (A remark where a young actress declares, “I think Howard Hughes should be president, there’s no one else like him” is sure to inspire some nervous laughter.) To be clear, none of this is Beatty’s fault. He has no control over the circumstances under which his movie gets released.

But he did have control over what kind of movie he made. Beyond the unfortunate parallels to the man dominating global news headlines, “Rules Don’t Apply” is not a film built for the long haul – it is certainly not the kind of project that clearly evinces forty years of thought and development. After all that time, it feels like Beatty should have figured out the story’s protagonist – Hughes, his latest starlet prospect Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins), or the married company driver Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich) who falls for her against his better judgement. The film plays out as a series of loosely connected, scarcely progressing scenes involving these characters – nothing more.

Of the key trio, only Ehrenreich’s Forbes is a character deserving of his own film. Beatty plays Hughes as a slave to his obsessive-compulsive disorder, turning his neuroses into a joking psychosis. Collins, meanwhile, dashes through her lines with such speed that she delivers them without seeming to understand what any of them mean. Or, at the very least, she doesn’t feel them with any strong sense of purpose.

Ehrenreich, meanwhile, recalls the unflappability and easygoing cool of a ’90s Leonardo DiCaprio. As a corporate pawn torn between his show business attraction and his familial commitments, Forbes is the only person in “Rules Don’t Apply” whose path does not seem predestined. Too bad that Beatty did not line up the heft of the movie fully behind him. C-1halfstars

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REVIEW: Bright Star

5 11 2009

If you want to watch a big, sweeping, 1800’s English romance, perhaps you should curl up with that pint of ice cream and watch “Sense & Sensibility” in bed again because “Bright Star” doesn’t fit the bill.  Sure, you have gorgeous countryside and fabulous cinematography, but the romance between poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish) is much more muted than what one would expect.  In fact, writer/director Jane Campion has made a film that portrays more of their heartache than their amorous time together.  But the beauty of the movie comes from just that, the budding passion of their love that cannot bloom fully because of societal constraints and unfortunate illness.  And according to Keats, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.”

For Keats, Brawne is literally the girl next door, but Campion makes sure that we do not mistake her for the stereotype that the term now bears.  We usually associate the girl next door with being innocent and straightforward, just the kind of girl to marry.  However, Keats thinks her a “stylish minx” (for those who don’t spreak pre-Victorian English, this he thinks she is quite the flirt).  And Brawne’s mother couldn’t be more happy with his disinterest in her daughter because he doesn’t make enough money writing poems.  Brawne also fears falling in love with Keats, but for a different reason; she doesn’t want him to have to give up what he loves to support her desire to design clothes.  Unlike most movie romances, their relationship doesn’t grow out of loathing, but rather out of amiability and friendship.  It is the disease of Keats’ brother and the sympathy that Brawne shows that brings them closer.  He then begins to see her almost as a muse, inspiring his best work yet.  Despite this, his friend and roommate Brown (Paul Schneider of “Parks & Recreation” in a performance that deserves to be remembered) resents her presence, perhaps as Campion suggest for his own selfish reasons.  The evidence is in the text that all the obstacles they faced only drew them closer to each other; Keats even wrote “I have the feeling as if I were dissolving.”  In an ironic twist, that which brought them together is the only thing that could tear them apart.

Campion wisely focuses her movie on Brawne, the character she seems to understand the most.  Keats proves to be quite an enigma, but Brawne proves to be quite a conundrum herself.  Sometimes her emotional swings, however, were quite nebulous.  Cornish plays them quite well, but I think the flaw comes from Campion’s script.  It wasn’t the dialogue that made them unclear; in fact, I caught witty, nuanced lines that no one in my theater noticed.  I don’t think it was the naivete of being a man that made her motives hazy because even my mother had to deliberate carefully on them.

Surprisingly, “Bright Star” is at its best when it steps away from the doomed romance and delves into the world of poetry.  Brawne asks Keats for poetry lessons, and rather than teach her to write it, he teaches her to appreciate it.  The sequences where he elaborates on why he writes are nothing short of sublime.  Keats tells her (and I quote roughly), “You don’t jump into an ocean to swim right back to shore.  You want to absorb the feeling of the water, feel the waves lapping.”  In a sense, the same could be said for Campion’s movie.  You dive into “Bright Star” not to see a movie but to immerse yourself in its beauty.  If this is your aim in watching the movie, the unhurried pace won’t be a bother, and it might even add to the experience as you find yourself encompassed by its grandeur.  B / 2halfstars