Rules Don't Apply

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
Rules Don't Apply Movie Poster Image
Entertaining but uneven Hollywood drama has serious themes.
  • PG-13
  • 2016
  • 126 minutes

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 1 review

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Dreams have a way of being deferred, but you can't let them get away from you. Also, integrity -- i.e. staying true to who you are -- is often the best course.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Marla and Frank may not always know who they are and what matters most to them, but they want to figure these things out, which makes a difference. Also, they're kind and generous and have a strong sense of direction and authenticity. 


Undercurrent of menace in the way women are treated, and how Howard Hughes lords what he wants, needs, and demands over his employees. (Hughes is mentally ill, which the film tries to address this care, but his behavior is still disturbing.) A pilot pushes his flying to dangerous extremes.


Lots of talk of sex, but only one scene is sexual; it shows a woman, still clothed but on her way to undressing, straddling a man. Kissing, sometimes passionately. The subject of premature ejaculation comes up.


One use each of "f--k," and "s--t," as well as "hell," "bitch," "goddamn," and several slang terms for sex and genitals (such as "gone all the way," "salami," "muffin").

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Mention of codeine and allusions to a character overusing it. Frequent social drinking. In one scene, a character who's normally against drinking gets completely drunk and subsequently has sex -- a decision she might not have made had she not been drunk. Smoking (accurate for the era).

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Rules Don't Apply is a romantic drama about a young actress (Lily Collins) making her way in 1950s Los Angeles, at a time when Howard Hughes (Warren Beatty, who also wrote and directed the film), already a larger-than-life figure, was on his way to becoming a truly epic mystery. The film, which is both funny and melancholy, mines a number of serious subjects, including sexism, mental illness, paternity, sexual frustrations, and politics. While swearing is minimal, there is a use each of "f--k" and "s--t," as well "hell," "damn," "bitch," and other swear words. There's also a fair bit of sexual content, including passionate kissing, lots of talk about sex, a reference to premature ejaculation, and a scene in which a woman straddles a man. Characters also smoke and drink -- in one notable case, very much to excess.

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Adult Written byBrittney S. February 25, 2017

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What's the story?

In RULES DON'T APPLY, Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins), a smart, religious young woman, longs for Hollywood greatness -- a dream that might be realized now that Howard Hughes (Warren Beatty) has signed her to his stable of actresses. With her mother (Annette Bening) by her side, Marla strikes up an immediate friendship with the driver assigned to ferry her around. Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich) is a smart aspiring real estate developer who hopes to interest the great Hughes in his plan to create affordable housing in Los Angeles. Marla and Frank are, in many ways, proverbial peas in a pod, kind-hearted and pure-intentioned. Their similar approach to and appreciation for life draw them close, but the millionaire/aviator/entrepreneur/Hollywood mogul has strict rules about actresses and drivers fraternizing. And life has a way of getting in the way of romance.

Is it any good?

This romantic drama isn't a perfect movie, but somehow, like a charming suitor whose quirks aren't easy to overlook, it winds up endearing itself to you anyway. For starters, there's the cast: Ehrenreich, who was the heart and soul of the Coen brothers' Hail Caesar! (also a movie set in old-school Hollywood), is an actor of great subtlety and appeal. He and Collins share a sweet chemistry that serves Rules Don't Apply well. Co-star Matthew Broderick is in top form as another Hughes driver who bristles under the millionaire's oddities, and Bening can't make a wrong move onscreen. But it's Beatty who holds the camera's gaze (which, it must be said, he keeps it a little too softly and gauzily lit) with his presence. 

In addition to starring, Beatty also wrote and directed the film, which both an homage to and an indictment of 1950s Hollywood repression. Though that makes for a bewitching stew, it's also a messy one: The romance at the center of Rules Don't Apply is sometimes overwhelmed by the "big ideas" backdrop of Hollywood history, meandering into big business and politics. That wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, had the themes been knit together more elegantly. And though the large cast gives the film a rollicking, ensemble-movie feel, it can also feel overcrowded and distracting. Still, Rules Don't Apply shoots an arrow straight to the heart -- how it does so may be a case of rules (of perfect filmmaking) not applying here. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the sexism on display in Rules Don't Apply and how it pervaded 1950s Hollywood. In what ways does the movie show women being objectified and mistreated? Have things changed since then? If so, how?

  • Is Howard Hughes portrayed as a hero, an anti-hero, or a villain? What's the difference between those roles? Can someone be all three? How does the movie handle his mental illness?

  • What role does drinking play in the movie? Are there realistic consequences for drinking too much? Why is it important to show consequences?

  • How does Marla deal with the pressures of her industry? Does she display integrity? Why is that an important character strength?

  • Do you think the movie romanticizes or glamorizes the past?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

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