I feel like I heard about this movie such a long time ago – Warren Beatty’s Howard Hughes biopic. Beatty’s return to acting in, what?, 15 years? His first directorial effort since Bulworth, which was 1998 if my memory of the great soundtrack song serves.
Lily Collins plays Marla, the Apple Blossom Queen, who is under contract with Howard Hughes, an elusive man she has yet to meet despite the fact that she’s been living and earning a stipend in Los Angeles for several weeks. Her devout mother (Annette Bening) has already returned home in frustration, so now it’s just Marla and Frank (Alden Ehrenreich), her devoted, reliable driver, who hasn’t met Hughes yet either. His only job, besides driving her around, is not to fall in love with her. That’s kind of tricky even though he’s practically married and she’s a prim virgin. But when a man tells you your beauty and uniqueness means “rules don’t apply to you” – well, crap, it’s the kind of think that dampens the panties.
When Howard Hughes (Beatty) finally does make an appearance in their lives, he’s a larger than life figure of course, and on the bring of insanity (though close enough to the one side that he’s paranoid as heck about seeming crazy). He’s obsessively keeping out of the public eye while skulking about in the dark. He doesn’t have as much use for these two young protagonists as they have for him, but it makes for an interesting dynamic.
The movie is only funny, or romantic, in fits and starts. Tonally it seems to be a little wayward. I found it interesting nonetheless. Beatty has chosen to show only a small window of Hughes’ life, not his best years by any stretch. He also relegates him to a supporting character in the film, with Frank and Marla providing life and context to Hughes’ sad descent. Perhaps more than a biography of Howard Hughes’ life, this is a tribute to the earliest days of Beatty’s career, when he was a young, ambitious actor just getting his footing in L.A. And with a supporting cast including Matthew Broderick, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin, Candice Bergen, Ed Harris, Steve Coogan, Oliver Platt and Paul Sorvino, there’s just too much talent to ignore. Beatty is good; Collins is even better.