Last night, Warren Beatty and the stars of the film, Rules Don’t Apply, including wife Annette Bening, and stars Lily Collins and Alden Ehrenreich,premiered at the AFI Fest. Immediately reviews were blasted out online, most praising the film’s beauty and style, but also Warren Beatty’s performance, which really is the best reason to see his film.
Beatty, like so many performances this year, hovers somewhere between supporting and lead but if you see the film, his character is so interesting and compelling it feels as though he is the lead and everyone else is supporting. However it lands ultimately, the one truth remains: Warren Beatty has given one of the best performances, and one of his own best performances, of the year.
Rules Don’t Apply is really about Beatty’s rumination, if you will, on the major impulses in his life. Or it seemed to me, anyway. I felt that Rules Don’t Apply was the most personal film Beatty has ever made because it disassembles the Beatty persona and reveals a vulnerability most do not see. Beatty was Beatty because we needed him to be. Someone that beautiful with access to so many women became an icon for the American male. Beatty, like several in his generation, seemed to be a bit undone by his beauty, while also taking full advantage of it. Those of us who have grown up watching him and his career know him to be someone of high intelligence and enduring mystery.
In Rules Don’t Apply a kind of truth emerges. Both halves of Beatty’s personas emerge – the shy religious boy who was forbidden from having “sexual intercourse” and a man whose ease with women, wealth and access might have muddied his own internal purpose. As we know, Beatty ultimately got married and had children. Not only did he raise them as a hands-on parent, but judging from how Rules Don’t Apply’s story is told, he might have discovered what many of us who have raised children already know: that it’s an awesome responsibility but among the sweetest offerings of human existence.
And so I came away from Rules Don’t Apply not thinking about the love story between Lily Collins and Alden Ehrenreich, but thinking about Beatty, his life and influences. To see such a vulnerability in him on screen, where he is no longer the matinee idol Americans have known but a man whose face echoes the disappointments of a life paralyzed by the mental illness Hughes endured is quite moving.
Sure, I would have preferred the whole film be about Beatty’s Hughes and the many colorful characters – Matthew Broderick especially, but also Alec Baldwin, Candice Bergin, etc – rather than a screwball romance between two young people for whom life’s lessons still await. This is because I’m a pessimist at heart and when I see young optimistic people on screen or in real life all I can do is think about how they’ll handle life’s disappointments.
Watching Beatty on screen, though, was to remember the giants of cinema. Maybe the cinema I knew as a young person no longer exists. Maybe movie stars as we once knew them do not exist. Between Beatty and Denzel Washington in Fences, however, one cannot help but be blown back by that kind of star power. It is its own energy source.
Beatty’s lightness with Rules Don’t Apply is an interesting juxtaposition to his intensity with Reds. The two films could not be more different. The characters Beatty plays are near polar opposites except in one important way: they are lost until women come along to show them the way. In both films, the women have the power and the wisdom, while the men mostly don’t. This is such a brilliant and beautiful thing that Beatty brings back with Rules Don’t Apply, so much so that one can forgive the films minor bumps.
It’s too bad Beatty takes so long between movies, however. Otherwise, we might get the chance to see him make another in the not too distant future. One of the greatest things about this movie is how specific the smallest details. I was probably the only person watching the film who caught the name of the reporter at the end. His name was Vernon Scott and was the father of an old boyfriend of mine. I couldn’t believe he could be THAT specific. That one detail told me that you can probably find many gems like that buried deeply within the DNA of Rules Don’t Apply, if you have the interest.
The AFI Fest continues throughout this week, with Jackie and 20th Century Women and Moana.