Sunday, November 27, 2016

Rules Don't Apply/Edge of Seventeen

Rules Don't Apply is reportedly a passion project of its writer/director/star Warren Beatty's, and indeed the film has the feel of something labored over and tinkered with. At one point in its development the film might have been a romance between Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich), a driver working for Hughes, and aspiring actress Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins). At another it could have been a sort of farce about an aging and eccentric Hughes (Beatty, making up for in energy what he lacks in depth) running around the globe with Frank and fellow driver Levar (Matthew Broderick) following behind and putting out fires. The film we actually have shoves these two conceits together and winds up being both tonally inconsistent and emotionally flat. Ehrenreich and Collins have a good rhythm together in the early scenes; both Frank and Marla come from conservative backgrounds and are figuring out how to make their way in a world that doesn't share their values. Why is Marla in Hollywood? Beatty's script has her signed to an RKO contract but Marla herself says she's not an actress and is in fact only good at writing songs. There's a song called "Rules Don't Apply" within the film that Marla has written which is performed in almost back-to-back scenes for Frank and Hughes. The song has an aphrodisiac effect and ignites a major plot point which is only barely paid off at the end of the film. Lily Collins, who is very winning even though Marla has to speak mostly in declamatory paragraphs, is meanwhile shoved to the fringes of the story.

 Warren Beatty never decides what story he wanted to tell in Rules Don't Apply; there are good actors floating around all over the film but most of them have nothing of consequence to do. Annette Bening is funny and brittle as Marla's religious mother but Alec Baldwin, Ed Harris, Martin Sheen, Candice Bergen, Oliver Platt, Dabney Coleman, and Haley Bennett (among others) are on hand just to move the plot along. The film doesn't examine Hughes as more than a collection of tics - there's a mass of detail about financial dealings that is just an excuse for scenes of Hughes freaking out and talking about ice cream - and as a result a moment of reckoning at the end falls flat. But we do hear that damn song again.

  Edge of Seventeen, written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig, asks us to believe that high-school junior Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) would only have one friend. I had a little trouble believing that Nadine wouldn't find another smart but disaffected student to bond with at her large suburban high school, but Nadine's growing self-awareness about her own situation makes the film work anyway. Nadine's friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) has just started dating Nadine's popular older brother Darian (Blake Jenner), and Nadine finds herself alone on the fringes once again. Hailee Steinfeld is wonderfully uningratiating here. Craig's script doesn't try to make us sympathize with Nadine, who sometimes can be a real jerk to her mother (Kyra Sedgwick) and everyone else around her. The scenes between Nadine and her history teacher (Woody Harrelson) have a comic snap because both characters want to be doing something else. There may never have been a teacher in film who less wants to play the role of life coach than Harrelson's very funny Mr. Bruner. Craig doesn't resolve everything at the end, and that choice may be the biggest reason to keep an eye on this filmmaker. Nadine is given a window into a different life, and it's up to her to do the rest.

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