Thursday, November 24, 2016

Mr. Beatty Has Made His Masterpiece (spoiler review)

This film is not a traditional bio pic. Beatty is too old to play Howard Hughes as Hughes was in 1958. The characters refer to Mr. Hughes as "very old." Beatty is playing a sort of alternative Hughes and liberties are taken. The events depicted in the story cover about six years. In life, these events happened during about a two decade period. This is not The Aviator that used a biography as its basis and stuck to it. This is something much better, a light film with serious concerns that fits the persona of Mr. Beatty very well indeed.

The film opens in the early 1960s as author Richard Miskind has written a book claiming that Mr. Howard Hughes has lost his mind and is at a press conference for the book. Hughes is expected to call in and debunk the claims of this book to avoid losing defense contracts and potentially have his business fall into the hands of conservators.  This is a nod to Clifford Irving who did write such as book. And the name Miskind is a take off of Peter Bliskind who wrote a somewhat unflattering book on Mr. Beatty. Mr. Miskind (played with a bit of menace by Paul Schneider) is seen earlier in the film hitting on one of the actresses  that Mr. Hughes has under contract. It was a smart move to make this character the Irving stand in and not add any unnecessary extra character. We already don't like this guy and want prove him to be wrong. It is sad that the bookends of the film hinge on if t Mr. Hughes is together enough to make a phone call. In a scene from the late 50's Hughes has to say the right thing during a congressional committee. Much of the film takes place in the late 1950's, a much less cynical time when we saw the good in these types of mavericks without looking for the warts.And, in the course of the film, Mr. Hughes will become a victim to all his warts, neurosis and fears.

There are touching scenes of Mr. Hughes trying to keep himself together. He is suffering from codeine addiction after plane crashes, as well as mental disorders. My favorite scenes: there is a scene toward the end where Mr. Hughes plays with a lamp, turning it on and off, looking into it. Much of the time he has been surrounded in darkness.  And the light and his smiling reaction is as if to say, what was all the hiding in the dark about. It is also one of the least vain scenes from a major actor, and one who is often accused of being vain. Another scene, Hughes flies in Raymond Holiday (a friend of his father's played by the great Dabney Coleman) to seek his advice on business matters. Hughes has just lost a major lawsuit and may have to sell his father's company. He is nervous and rambling and suggests that he and Raymond should go flying sometime, and Raymond, gently but firmly, tells him "I'm not sure you should really think about flying any more Howard. It is a devastating scene. A number of Warren Beatty films involve a man at odd. There is a disconnect between what he is and what he wants to be seen as. Bugsy saw himself as a family man and business maverick but became smaller in the name of lust. Bulworth started as a liberal dem and let special interests make him far more conservative. John McCabe thought he was a genius entrepreneur but had no business sense and was not the smartest person in the room. Sometimes Hughes is the smartest person in the room and is much admired ("I think Howard Hughes should be president" one character coos). Like McCabe, he is a comic figure as well as a tragic one. And this film has more than its share of comedy.


I don't mean to be negative, but are me living in Nicaragua now?

This is a question posed by Howard Hughes' drivers Levar Mathis (played by Matthew Broderick) and Frank Forbes (played by Alden Ehenreich) and eventual co-keepers after they are rushed to Nicaragua on a whim, and to avoid possible business catastrophe, by Mr. Hughes. The question gets a big laugh. After the intro, the story starts proper when Forbes picks up Marla Mabrey from the Hollywood airport. She has just won a talent competition in West Virginia, and is given a contract by Howard Hughes. 400 dollars a month plus a home. Mabrey is a songwriter and devout baptist. She travels to Hollywood with her mother (played by Mr. Beatty's lovely wife) who questions Mr. Hughes' motives. Hughes has a stable of 26 actresses that he keeps on his payroll. They are all there for a screen test for something (likely made up) called Stella Starlight. Many of the folks who have been there for a while still have not met Hughes.And there is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about what being under contract means exactly.This is a great comedy of misunderstanding. The first meet up between Hughes and Mabrey sees Marla prattle on about how grateful she is as  Hughes eats a TV dinner,completely ignoring her, then (hilariously) picks up a saxophone and starts playing (as a signal that he is about to get lucky). Marla, tougher than she seems, indicates to Mr. Hughes that if his reputation with woman was true, he would not have time to work on aviation (Mr. Beatty has made similar claims about himself and the 12,000 women he is alleged to have slept with; I would not have had the time). When Hughes meets Frank Forbes for the first time, Forbes tries to talk Hughes into real estate as Hughes goes on about venereal disease. Hughes repeats himself because he is losing it (I will leave this country and never come back. I...will leave this country and never come back), but these instances are seen as adding emphasis because we make allowances for the rich.  These confusions end up showing how much interest and slack people are willing to give a billionaire while they reside in his orbit. Another point of comedy misunderstanding, Hughes is unaware that his doubles look nothing like him

 Mr. Beatty has said that the film is about sexual mores of the 50s. That plays into it a bit and informs Frank and Marla's behavior as they meet and fall for each other and have complications from back home and in Hollywood. The biggest complication though is Hughes and his frenzied mind.  This is a frenzied film. The editing is quite unique, many scenes are often quick, bringing in just the necessary information to move to the next part. It is a marvel. Another marvel is how much I related to the film as a man who cannot have children.
Hughes describes himself as still more of a son than a father, which I found a touching way to characterize it. And I still miss my father (who died Christmas day last year) the way Hughes misses his How come you never talk about your daddy Frank? I could always tell my mother I loved her..but my father, I miss him. Hughes is obsessed with leaving a legacy and believes that this new thing called DNA allows your father to still be alive in you. As Raymond Holiday asks him Who's DNA are you going to be in Howard?
In an early scene, Hughes sees a small child and runs out of the room in horror. At first, Hughes' legacy seems to be his planes and his films.

Marla writes a song for Frank based on a kind comment he had made to her.

One day I told my friend I was terribly blue.
Was it far too late to do what I dreamed I could do?
He thought for a moment, then he answered.
He said, “The rules don’t apply to you.”
He said it very simply, and quietly too.
But as if there wasn’t any doubt at all that he knew.
He gave me a gift that I would treasure.
He said, “The rules don’t apply to you.”
In the movies we see, in the shows on TV,
And in anthems passionately sung,
There’s a message that you’ve got to keep believing in yourself,
But they generally mean, if you’re young.
It it written in the air, as it seems to be,
That we haven’t long at all to find our destiny?
I’ll always remember to be grateful
That the rules don’t apply to me.
I wouldn’t like.
The rules don’t apply.
The rules don’t apply to you.
When Marla drunkenly sings the same song to Mr. Hughes a few scenes later (Collins is the perfect drunk in this scene), Hughes looks deeply moved, but we don't know if he is moved because his film Hell's Angels is playing in the background or because the song speaks to him as the aging nutty maverick that he has become.
 After Marla sings Rules to Hughes, Marla throws herself at him, after Hughes gives her a ring and says they are basically married, and ends up pregnant. When she confesses this to him, he assumes she slept around. Much later in the film, after Hughes and Marla have lost touch, some kids run around his bungalow, and he seems happy to see them. He has moved his interest in legacy onto children.
It will take Marla bringing her son to Mr. Hughes at the end of the film to enliven Mr. Hughes into going on record the Miskind book is a hoax. Mr. Beatty took 15 years off to raise his children whom he obviously loves very dearly. The hero in the film is ultimately the child. If Love Affair was a love letter to his lovely wife and Bulworth was getting all his political ideals down and Town and Country was a comment on past behavior, Rules is a love letter to his children who are the most important thing in life.

With that in mind, I will speak a bit about the young people of this film, Frank and Marla.
Frank has a Murphy bed as Beatty did when he came to Hollywood. Marla comes from a deeply religious family in Virginia as Beatty did and was under contract as Beatty was. Warren's sister Shirley had met Hughes right away when she came to Hollywood.
The cast and crew are by and large friends of Mr. Beatty that he has used a number of times before. Mrs. Bening (Bugsy, Love Affair) is Marla's tough mother, Paul Sorvino (Bulworth) is a reporter. Oliver Platt (Bulworth) is a bothered executive in a hilarious sequence. All the actors are great; the cinematography is excellent as well. Beatty did not become Hughes but made Hughes Beatty, shrouded in mystery, sexy, smart, mysterious,  Hollywood obsessed long after the real Hughes was,  and yes...old. It is an achievement that obviously only he could have done and it blows any other portrayal out of the water because it has nearly 60 years of an acting persuasive acting persona behind it and fits among Beatty's and the (in general) very best roles.

These little details taken from life are as carefully planned as any of the glaces and banter that Frank and Marla share. We see two people falling in love on screen. There is a shot at the end of the film where Frank thinks Marla and her son have left. The camera falls back then moves forward in such a way that the audience knows Marla is still there, and Frank is just about to find her. It is a crowd pleasing scene that really could have used a crowd.