New Coming Beatty and Howard Hughes

Warren Beatty has been dreaming of making “Rules Don’t Apply,” his Howard Hughes project, for decades. Because of both his status as a Hollywood icon and his involvement with one of the most expensive film flops ever, “Ishtar,” Beatty’s project had assumed the whispers of legend before a frame was shot.

The story follows aerospace billionaire Hughes and certain key members of his entourage during some of his later years when he became a reclusive and odd figure, an object to this day of speculation. What was going on with Howard Hughes? “Rules Don’t Apply” offers a potential answer.

That Beatty started working with his actors years ago shows onscreen in subtle ways: such as how Hughes driver Frank Forbes, played by Alden Ehrenreich, becomes comfortable in his relationship and proximity to Hughes, a feeling one can imagine a young actor reaching only after spending ample bonding time with Beatty.

Beatty and the billionaire do an almost quantum shift — turning the act of watching the film into a brain twister in which one tries to both watch Beatty playing Hughes and sink fully into the story. But then you think: that’s Beatty and he’s playing Hughes with such aplomb, he’s clearly enjoying this.

One wonders: does the Hughes of “Rules Don’t Apply” resemble the real Hughes? If so and even if not, Beatty’s choices as an actor, his adoption of a bunch of ticks to reveal his take on the recluse, are rather delightful. You get to know this guy, how he reacts to stuff, and what is likely going on inside his odd brain.

Sure, the proceedings are a bit bombastic at times. The conjuring of mid-century Los Angeles mirrors the surface content of what is either the main plot or a big subplot, watching the repression of sexuality as it plays out in two young adults. On the surface the city is sunny and pastel, as are the easy demeanors of the pair with their church-going and mealtime graces. But underneath it all, there is desire and desperate dreams and a clawing to have what the successful people have.

She’s a contract actress pushing for her big break; he’s hired by Hughe’s people — two of them played by Martin Sheen and Matthew Broderick — to drive her around. But he seeks an audience with Hughes to cajole him into a real estate deal. This being L.A. real estate, you have a pretty good idea that buying a whole bunch of acreage to build affordable houses in the 1950s is a pretty good idea, so you know Frank’s not unsharp and that helps you like him. Will the two young’uns fight through obstacles and end up together?