It’s difficult not to think of Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning film The Aviator (2004), which was also about Howard Hughes, the infamous Hollywood producer-turned-pilot and airplane-maker. Leonardo DiCaprio gave a dynamic performance of Hughes from the 1920’s to the 1940’s. Written and directed by Warren Beatty (Heaven Can Wait and Reds), this film focuses on Hughes’ life from the 1950’s to the 60’s when Hughes became more of a weird recluse. Beatty himself stars as Howard Hughes, yet he’s more of a supporting character, as the story really centers on the relationship of Marla Mabrey, an aspiring actress from Virginia, and Frank Forbes, a chauffeur who eventually becomes a right-hand-man to Hughes, doing menial tasks for the eccentric in the hopes that he’ll be able to get Hughes to invest in his real estate venture.
Besides the same subject matter, another reason it’s difficult not to think of that Scorsese biopic is because this movie shares an actor with that one. Alec Baldwin is in both films. In Scorsese’s film, Baldwin played Juan Trippe, the owner of Pan Am, a person working against Hughes. In this film, Baldwin plays Bob Maheu, the CEO of Hughes’ company in Las Vegas, or a person working for Hughes. It also doesn’t help stray from comparisons to that 2004 film when the star here bears a striking resemblance to the star nearly a dozen years ago.
Alden Ehrenreich (Beautiful Creatures and Blue Jasmine) stars as Frank Forbes, the young dreamboat in question, charming and funny, with passion and sex appeal to spare. Just watching him, seeing his technique and personality arise, Ehrenreich could be the next James Dean but feels so much like DiCaprio. Given his career choices so far, he could certainly have a similar career to DiCaprio. There’s just so much depth and nuance, as well as lightness to him that he could probably do anything and be as intense about it as anyone. He certainly holds his own against heavy-hitters like Beatty or even Annette Bening.
Lily Collins (The Blind Side and Mirror Mirror) co-stars as Marla Mabrey, and, as long as the comparisons to Scorsese’s soaring hit are unavoidable, one can say she’s the equivalent to Cate Blanchett. I may not be ready to draw straight lines between Collins and Blanchett’s careers or abilities as I am between Ehrenreich and DiCaprio, but Collins certainly has potential to follow in Blanchett’s footsteps. She certainly fits in the style of 50’s Hollywood, which Beatty recreates simply and without much grandeur as opposed to Scorsese’s efforts, which were way more epic.
It seems as though Beatty wasn’t going for some epic look at the life of Hughes. It seems as if Hughes’ life were merely a fun backdrop for him to tell this breezy love story, the likes of which the 79-year-old director probably watched when he was younger. There are a lot of comedic moments to where it almost rides the line of spoof and homage to those breezy, 50’s romances, but probably leans more toward homage. It would pair nicely with another Ehrenreich film that came out earlier this year that also was set in 1950’s Hollywood, the Coen brothers’ Hail, Caesar.
In fact, this movie might be the result if The Aviator and Hail, Caesar had a baby. On a spectrum with those two movies on either end, this movie lies somewhere between them. It’s not as epic as Scorsese’s work and not as goofy as the Coen brothers’ comedy either, but, yes, it is breezy. Scenes are incredibly short and the edits are quick. He’s like the opposite of Judd Apatow. He doesn’t let jokes drag out. He hurries and gets to the punchline and then moves on.
Unlike his previous films though, I just don’t get why he made it. I’m not sure what was the big draw for him unless he just has a big fascination with Hughes that he felt like touching upon the later part of his life. Maybe Beatty identifies with Hughes somehow. It’s just an old-fashioned romp mostly that won’t be remembered as strongly as anything Beatty has directed or starred before.
Rated PG-13 for language, brief sexual material and drug references.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 6 mins.