Written by Taylor Baker
Being the Ricardos marks renowned screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s third feature film as director and in this writer’s opinion his most complete film to date. With his debut Molly’s Game he showcased his ability to competently present the screenplay he’d written when relying on some of Hollywood’s best actors, in Trial of the Chicago 7 his showy narrative looked flat and felt forced with ideas bigger than the characters taking the center stage. Being the Ricardos is a larger-than-life drama about one of television’s biggest couples on and off the screen, played by big movie stars, Javier Bardem plays Desi and Nicole Kidman plays Lucy both from the beloved 1950’s television show, I Love Lucy.
Here the flat sheen of the camera doesn’t seem as unintuitive as it had in Trial of the Chicago 7, it arguably looks similar to the way that television is shot. Which gives it some quotient of meta-analysis that feels true despite its possible incidentality. The major stumbling block is the presentation of Nicole Kidman who is playing Lucille at a range of ages. Beginning in her late 20’s through to her early 40’s. There’s an awkward uncanny valley experience as a viewer where due to her cosmetic surgery, Nicole’s face and the correlating special effects employed to deage it give one the feeling that she isn’t real in a number of scenes. Luckily she is often very good which more than makes up for those issues.
Javier likewise plays a range of ages, with great suavity, crooning in a nightclub, clambering on a conga drum, and playing his scenes in such a generally cool way that he seems unshakeable. J.K. Simmons and Nina Arianda each play supporting characters both in I Love Lucy as Fred Mertz and Ethel Mertz respectively and as Vivian Vance and William Frawley in the film itself. Nina Arianda is especially good, playing her scorn and desire with unassuming deftness, dancing between big moments and whispers of annoyance effortlessly.
Being the Ricardos begins framed by a trio of writers in their waning years of life remembering and orating in a docu-style interview the events that occurred one week in their second season when a particular show announced at the end of their show that Lucille Ball was a Communist. Meanwhile, a tabloid has published that Desi, Lucille’s husband has been unfaithful and sleeping around in Hollywood. The film goes on to depict the couple and their small team that runs the show navigating the uncertainty of the show continuing in light of the accusations toward Lucy and separately but mirroringly Kidman’s Ball trying to find out if Desi is unfaithful to her.
There’s lots of range that each star gets to showcase, with the main players each getting their big moments and asides to perform for the audience. Sorkin going the route of metatextual films seems to be a good direction allowing him to use television and film history as the drama playground from the start to get bigger and more unconventional than other storytellers. Many filmmakers would have likely made a biographical film that was self-serious, Sorkin though made his effort into a cultural touchstone that metaphorically seems both enriching to the source material and cleverly conceited to grab a prospective contemporary audience and speak to them directly as storyteller. Though Sorkin’s direction doesn’t inspire awe or noteworthy cinematography it’s competent enough to allow the talent in front of the lens to work their way into our hearts and minds.
Being the Ricardos Trailer
Being the Ricardos will enter limited theatrical release on December 10th and begins streaming on Prime Video on December 21st.
You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on Letterboxd, Twitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.