Small town beauty queen and devout Baptist Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins), under contract to the infamous Howard Hughes (Warren Beatty), arrives in Los Angeles. At the airport, she meets her driver, Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich), only two weeks on the job and also from a religiously conservative background. Their instant attraction not only puts their religious convictions to the test but also defies Hughes’ number one rule: no employee is allowed to have an intimate relationship with a contract actress.
This is going to cause some controversy but this my first experience with Warren Beatty. After all this time, why not start here? I’ve been a big fan of old hollywood films as of late with Hail, Caesar being my most anticipated film this year and Café Society which I was also looking forward to but ended up disappointing me. This one is more of the latter but the trailers looked good and the cast is impressive.
The film is about Howard Hughes (Beatty) and the two people connected to each other by him, a young driver named Frank Forbes (Ehrenreich) and an aspiring actress under contract to Hughes named Marla Mabrey (Collins). The two are there for different reasons with Forbes working for Hughes and biding his time until he can pitch him some business opportunities and Mabrey wanting to be a star.
Hughes is an eccentric character (I haven’t seen The Aviator so I’m going on past knowledge) and this was quite evident early on. His mind tended to wander and his behavior was erratic and Forbes and Mabry were simply following him for the ride. The film follows him during his heyday during the 1950s and 1960s while he was making planes and dabbling in Hollywood films.
Meeting with him proved difficult as he did not like to be seen and his behavior made it hard for people to work with him. Forbes and Mabry had to wait for some time before ever meeting him but until then, they were in complete awe of him. The more they got to know him, things started to change. Hughes had a propensity to hire young actresses and had them on contract regardless of whether he intended to use them or not. Mabrey remained patient, waiting for her chance to come.
Forbes was patient and biding his time, getting in Hughes’ good graces. Forbes eventually got into Hughes’ inner circle, working alongside fellow driver Levar Mathis (Matthew Broderick). They would do their best to manage him and try to rein him in but they would not dare stand up to him. Both he and Mabrey were deeply religious people but over time, their views were challenged by their new lifestyles. Hughes’ number one rule was that no employee was allowed to have an intimate relationship with one of his contract actress but because of Forbes’ religious nature, he trusted him.
Hughes overambitious nature, constant absences and general neglect of his businesses led him to legal trouble that he chose to simply avoid for the most part, leaving Forbes and Mathis to deal with it. His erraticness caused everyone to move around the world at a whim. His behavior sometimes made everything hard to follow. When his competency was put into question, it was up to him to come out of obscurity and prove it to the rest of the world.
Hughes was fun to watch but his behavior sometimes went too far and got a little too much. It felt overdone to the point that he was eccentric for the sake of being eccentric. It was like his character was overwritten to the point that he did not give other characters much of a chance in scenes. The film focused on him way too much as it took away from Forbes, Mabry, and their relationship. This made it not as compelling. His presence would often break whatever momentum they had.
Beatty was fun to watch as Hughes. He was great at being an eccentric, bumbling goofball. His many quips and outbursts were entertaining but he often drowned out the other actors. Ehrenreich was charming and likable and was a good counter-balance to Beatty. Their chemistry kept them engaging. Collins was good and likable too. Her chemistry with Ehrenreich was also good, despite their limited screen time together.
Overall, this was a fun film with a great performance by Beatty that also weighs down the rest of the film.