CAST: Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem, J.K Simmons, Nina Arianda, Tony Hale, Alia Shawkat, Linda Lavin, Jake Lacy, Clark Gregg, Nelson Franklin, John Rubinstein, Robert Pine, Christopher Denham
RUNNING TIME: 125 mins
BASICALLY…: During a production week on their hit sitcom I Love Lucy, comedienne Lucille Ball (Kidman) and her husband Desi Arnaz (Bardem) face significant challenges to their relationship…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
Given their shared skill for fast-paced wit, it’s a wonder why Aaron Sorkin hasn’t already made a film about Lucille Ball. Being The Ricardos, the Oscar-winning writer’s third film as director after Molly’s Game and last year’s Oscar contender The Trial of the Chicago 7, is an attempt to make up for lost time, and in true Sorkin fashion the dialogue is cracking and the performances are more than up for the task of keeping with his rat-a-tat words, in a film that serves as an interesting tribute to the TV sitcom legend and her hard-working skills as a performer.
However, although the film is often very entertaining, it lacks a thorough focus which, if tightened significantly, really could have been one of the writer’s strongest works since his script for Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs.
Being The Ricardos adopts a similar-ish format to Steve Jobs, in that most of the action takes place within a certain period of time; in this case, it’s during a production week on I Love Lucy, beginning with the Monday table read to the Friday night taping in front of a live studio audience. This week, however, tensions are high: word has begun spreading that the show’s star Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) may be affiliated with the Communist Party, when in reality she simply checked the box out of blind family loyalty as a child. Nonetheless, it’s threatening to cause a stir in the press, and if that wasn’t enough drama, Ball’s husband and co-star Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem) may have been photographed cheating on his wife. Still not enough? Ball is pregnant, and both her and Desi are trying to convince the writers and the executives to write her pregnancy into the show, which at the time was heavily taboo to show an expectant woman on television, let alone just talking about it. Al the while, Lucille and Desi are desperately trying to save their careers and marriage, which could all be undone before the cameras even begin rolling on Friday.
As much of an admirer of Sorkin’s writing as I am, admittedly I did go into this movie with a bit of trepidation, mainly because the movie looked as though it was just going to be a glammed-up version of one of those trashy, exploitative made-for-TV movies that are made to capitalise on the popularity of a certain subject. Luckily, it is better than that, with Sorkin’s script alone giving it plenty of life with zingers and humorously anecdotal monologues galore, but it does retain that noticeably made-for-TV look due to filmmaking which cannot match the words being spoken. As a director, Sorkin doesn’t have much of a distinctive style, relying far too much on his own script for that extra emotional punch rather than incorporating some interesting imagery to visually tell his story. Instead, it’s a somewhat bland movie to look at, lacking that sense of energy which the script carries in bucketloads, which is a shame because said script is doing well at sucking you in to the story, its characters and its structure – if only it could visually keep up with itself.
Nonetheless, Sorkin’s script is as fiery as ever, although compared to some of his strongest works it is much looser than it needs to be. The films works best when it’s focusing on the activities going on during this production week, from the meetings with writers about punching up some of the jokes, to Ball basically turning into Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes as she envisions scenes from the show and the actions within, overriding the useless director and the desires of her co-stars. However, every once in a while, the movie will suddenly shift focus (via documentary-style fictional interviews which come and go as they please) to the progression of Lucille and Desi’s relationship from their first meeting up to the origins of their hit show, which is where the movie more or less grinds to a halt to give us the typical biopic fare most were probably fearing that Being The Ricardos would be. The dialogue between them is still fun to listen to, and both Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem are both great in the movie with strong charisma between them, but there isn’t much of a reason for the film to take this detour when things were already interesting to begin with. Also, for whatever reason, the younger versions of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz are very odd-looking; I think they might have applied some of the leftover de-aging technology from The Irishman onto Kidman and Bardem’s faces, because they don’t appear to be natural during these scenes and it can be very distracting.
For all its faults, Being The Ricardos does a good enough job of being an entertaining fictional look into the life of a TV legend. Lucille Ball’s artistry as a comedic performer of the highest art is paid loving tribute through Sorkin’s bouncy writing, and while it not be the definitive warts-and-all biopic some may have wanted this movie to be, it’s got enough of a spark to make you interested in where this story is going to go, and where these iterations of the main figures are going to end up. Even if you’ve never seen an episode of I Love Lucy, there’s enough to enjoy about the way it portrays the not-as-funny drama behind the scenes, as well as some of the iconography that most associate with the show, which Sorkin lovingly recreates as much as he can in his witty script, but less than sparkly direction.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Being The Ricardos is a formidable look at life behind the scenes of hit TV sitcom I Love Lucy, which writer-director Aaron Sorkin and lead actors Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem spice up with juicy dialogue and charismatic performances, even when the direction and sometimes even the structure of the script can’t keep up.