Released to Blu-Ray February 28, 2017
"They don't make them like they used to" seems to have been the rallying cry of 2016, what with the nostalgia-porn tidal wave of films like La La Land and Café Society, both of which are ostensibly cynical takes on the idea of fawning over a bygone era. Perhaps it's the dire state of new blockbuster releases being homogenized, steady sludge being pumped into the cineplex or the seeming fading legacy of film to the rise of the next Golden Age of television that has forced creators to re-examine their beloved craft. Unfortunately for us, and anyone who managed to sit through La La Land can surely testify to this, the films that tend to examine film itself, especially in 2016, have the chance of somehow being bigger slogs than standard MCU fair, some even going as far as to implicitly praise the cultural gentrification of the past.
Despite the intense wave of subverted takes on the pangs of memory, only two films from 2016 truly understood the nature of cinephilia intersecting with memory. On one hand, Robert Zemeckis's uncharacteristically great Allied, and Warren Beatty's silent comeback Rules Don't Apply. For someone who hasn't felt the need to make a film in eighteen years while having enough names in the address book to make any film he wanted, what's most striking about Rules Don't Apply is its seeming down-to-earthness. Perhaps the key to its brilliance in its critique of the then developing "New Hollywood" is the authorship, someone who was key in that development placing himself in the role of someone who would soon be lost to it. A startling development considering Beatty is himself about to be lost to the next generation of Hollywood, developing during this period of creative arrest. And while someone of the status and consequentially the ego of Beatty should realistically have posited this as another "They don't make them like they used to" rant, he instead opts for a sort of self-critique. The most flattering comparison I can muster is to Chaplin's A King in New York, where Beatty is perhaps suggesting, by embodying the fading Howard Hughes, that perhaps if his legacy is lost it's because the filmmakers of today don't need him anymore.
It's during Beatty's introspective scenes that the film is most interesting, but absolutely during the Colins/Ehrenreich exchanges that the film becomes most entertaining. The introspection is surely the deepest part of the film, but it is appropriately regulated to the side. What really carries the film, aside from Deschanel's typically stellar photography, is Beatty's direction of these two incredible performances (Ehrenreich on his own is better than any actor nominated this year at the Oscars). There's an explicit critique of the treatment of young actresses during this period, the nefarious "Rules" mentioned in the title that relegate the value of young women in the industry based on age on physical appearance but its rendered mostly as a comic farce. Indeed, this clusterfuck of character arcs and stories and critiques all intersect each other in the oddest of places. We might be looking at a masterpiece had the runtime been allowed to soar as it should have, and perhaps in another cut it did. But all things considered, we're left with a truly beautiful film from one of Hollywood's most celebrated icons.
Haydn DePriest is a student at the University of Texas at Austin.