It’s rather nice to have Warren Beatty back, and in a film he both directed and wrote—Rules Don’t Apply (2016)—he co-stars as a man who has long fascinated him: Howard Hughes.

Not a Hughes biopic, really, it involves two would-be lovers, Marla (Lily Collins) and Frank (Alden Ehrenreich), who gain important associations with the aging, dementia-afflicted Hughes.  Marla shows up to do a screen test for him, but, although a devout Baptist, she also loses her virginity to the weird billionaire. . . Beatty deserves credit for revealing a vast America made up of mini-worlds that are sometimes in conflict with each other.  Marla and her mother (Annette Bening) are Virginia residents spending time in secular Hollywood—and are confused and angered by what goes on there.  But conflicts are numerous:  Frank, for his part, is a business-minded and seemingly religious Methodist who eventually fights with the Marla he is smitten with.

Rules Don’t Apply is a unique and fizzy work which, by and by, comes apart at the seams.  The sequence in which Marla slowly gets drunk tells us how necessary it might be to start suspending disbelief in the plot, as indeed it is.  During the first hour the film can be entrancing, but Beatty really doesn’t understand people who are committed to God.  Rules is handsome-looking, though, and the cast is estimable.  Bening, Collins, Matthew Broderick and Martin Sheen are a delight to see.