Review: Being the Ricardos
Aaron Sorkin, the man known for his walking chats and rapid dialogue, may not seem like the obvious choice to make a film about Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. However, his love for television has been explored before and he certainly loves a good "behind the scenes" story about creatives.
Being the Ricardos explores one wild week where Ball (Nicole Kidman) was accused of being a communist. All the while she is trying to make a good episode of comedy and trying to figure out if she can save her marriage as Desi (Javier Bardem) is involved in a scandal. Sorkin attempts to balance a lot here, the plot also includes her convincing sponsors to let Lucy be pregnant, working in her real-life pregnancy, and working on a dinner scene over and over to find the real comedy in the situation. Sorkin also includes snippets of faux interviews to provide context to this period in I Love Lucy history.
When the film focuses on Ball's comedic expertise and the driven nature of the hard time she gave everyone on set, the film soars. It is a shame this is such a small part of the film. Kidman received plenty of hubbubs when cast in the film. She is solid here, wisely not relying on prosthetics to embody the famous figure. Kidman plays off-screen Ball as an acerbic, powerful creative. She is great in scenes with her best writer (Alia Shawkat) and the showrunner (Tony Hale). Bardem is less successful as Dezi. He is all mannerisms. However, the scenes between him and Kidman often have a verve to them that gives the film much-needed energy.
Sorkin has just packed too much story here. The high stakes of the communism accusation mixed with the low stakes of getting a scene right offer a compelling interplay, for a while. As the movie moves into its overly long second act, it flattens these into a narrow portrait of a strong-willed woman.
Sorkin packs the film with plenty of interesting tidbits. He has done his research. However, few of these factoids, such as the fact that Desi invented a way of shooting that lets the audience see the actors better, elicit more than an "oh" reaction. At the core, the film should be about Lucy and Desi and the beginnings of their marriage falling apart. Sorkin gets distracted as if that wasn't enough for him. This robs the film of the larger emotional payoff it could have had.