All kidding aside, Nicole Kidman is laudable in Aaron Sorkin’s “Being the Ricardos”.


It’s tempting to hate watching writer / director Aaron Sorkin’s mercurial drama “Being the Ricardos” – based on real events – over a tough week in the lives of Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) and Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem). While the movie has a myriad of issues, it is, in every way, mostly watchable.

Sorkin’s hallmark, hyperverbal dialogue is, of course, prominent, and there are plenty of scenes of characters walking and talking. But the bickering between writers Madelyn Pugh (Alia Shawkat) and Bob Carroll (Jake Lacy) over who had the best joke first is boring, and the “clever” scoldings between William Frawley (JK Simmons) and Vivian Vance (Nina). Arianda) can feel as canned as a trail of laughter at times. Sorkin’s dialogue works best when Lucy is particularly precise in analyzing words and meaning when other characters are talking to her. She forces them to reconsider whether she should take their words as an insult or simply read them as proof of their stupidity. A prime example of this is when she gets the final say after meeting an RKO executive who cancels her contract with the studio.

Lucy is a tough cookie here, and Kidman’s cast, which has been debated since her announcement, works because Lucy is more nervous and vulnerable than funny. Kidman makes viewers feel his roller coaster of emotions. That said, the actress never really disappears into the role, but it’s a commendable performance.

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As Desi, Bardem’s turn is also strong, even though he sounds like the last famous Cuban portrayed by the actor – poet and novelist Reinaldo Arenas. Bardem makes Desi charming during a cranky comic about making the “h” after the “g” silent when pronouncing “Westinghouse” and charismatic when performing a handful of musical numbers. But he also shows real courage in the costume-dealing scenes at the studio – although he’s on less solid ground when Desi wrestles with Lucy.

“Being the Ricardos” opens when Walter Winchell lets float a veiled suggestion on his Sunday radio show that Lucille Ball is a Communist. Lucy admits she “ticked the box” 20 years ago, but she has never been at a meeting or involved with the Communist Party. If the media takes hold of the story, it will end the couple’s professional career.

Another bomb goes off when “Confidential” magazine publishes a story that Desi is cheating on his wife. However, the photo is old, the couple admit, and the story is likely untrue. Desi denies it and Lucy wants to believe it.

A third situation that presents itself is that Lucy is pregnant, and this development will have to be written in the series. Sadly, showrunner Jess Oppenheimer (Tony Hale) insists executives won’t allow it.

Sorkin has a lot of material here to examine the relationship between the celebrity couple at the time of their greatest fame and how they resolve these issues independently and together. But why only spin three plates, when you can spin six? Sorkin lards “Being the Ricardos” with unnecessary scenes, like a series of interviews decades later with Jess (John Rubinstein), Madelyn (Linda Lavin) and Bob (Ronny Cox) to provide layers of context. These didactic interruptions seem superfluous and present a boring and casual show business motif.

Sorkin also frames his story around rehearsing, blocking, and filming an episode of “I Love Lucy” titled “Fred and Ethel Fight”. (We get the metaphor, Aaron!) This gives Lucy the opportunity to illustrate how she controls things on her show, right down to the physical comedy choreography of a two a.m. dinner streak. Lucy is also worried about making credible a first gag, the weight of Vivian Vance and working with a director hack, Don Glass (Christopher Denham). Additionally, she also hopes to save her marriage by asking Jess to make Desi an executive producer for the show. Now Sorkin can hold up to 12 plates. It’s hard not to feel exhausted or wince when some people fall apart.

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All of this drama comes and goes, but it never freezes. The Communist storyline hangs in the background like a sword of Damocles, ultimately transforming into a do or die moment right before the recording of the week’s episode, but it doesn’t generate much narrative tension. . Better to use it to show Lucy’s moxie; she doesn’t apologize for “checking the box” and is angry that Desi tells people she “checked the wrong box”, as if to downplay her thoughts and actions.

This emotion is reflected in her worries about her marriage and how little time Lucy and Desi actually spend together. Even though “Being the Ricardos” primarily takes Lucy’s point of view, it at least serves a purpose. A scene of Desi, leaving a club after a show, causes him to ignore his young female fans to go meet his wife. When Lucy attends a performance, everyone at the club tries her out instead. The imbalance in their relationship is felt throughout, even in a flashback sequence when she’s excited to be chosen for “The Big Street,” just as Desi is about to go on tour.

Sorkin also overcompensates by showing Lucy’s daring at every opportunity, repeatedly insulting her director to dictating the terms to turn her radio show “My Favorite Husband” into a TV sitcom, “I Love Lucy” in a theatrical room. filled with frames. Much stronger are the times when Lucy imagines the comedic potential of Lucy’s stomping on grapes, or when she and William Frawley have a heart-to-heart relationship in a bar.

“Being the Ricardos” never quite understands what tickles Lucy, even as Kidman gets into her determined frame of mind. But watch a downcast Lucy walk in the rain following an unpleasant discovery of gilded lily.

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Sorkin’s film may seem sloppy in more ways than one. “I Love Lucy” purists may scoff that the movie’s “Fred and Ethel Fight” was, in fact, Episode 22 of Season 1, and not Episode 37 as “Being the Ricardos” suggests. “. Perhaps the filmmaker takes a poetic license to incorporate a reference to Lucy’s famous “Vitametavegamin” line (season 1, episode 30). But it could just be part of Sorkin’s plate spinning. He’s taking too much here. A part is paying. Simmons and Shawkat provide reliable support and the look of the film, from sets to costumes, is fabulous. But most of “Being the Ricardos” doesn’t have the magic it’s trying to capture.

“Being the Ricardos” is currently in theaters and airing on Prime Video starting Tuesday, December 21. Watch a trailer below, via YouTube.

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