Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Being the Ricardos - Review

 Director Aaron Sorkin has had an interesting filmography since trading out his title of writer for that of writer-director. He’s always been a stylish screenwriter, so naturally his films should follow suit right? That notion quickly disappeared when a clear quest for awards glory overtook the legendary writers creative work. Being the Ricardos is the next step in that process, taking one of Hollywood’s biggest icons and putting her in the hands of a director that still hasn’t found any sort of directing style that suits his snappy writing. 

The film compacts two very real, momentous events from the lives of Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) and Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem) into one manufactured production week from hell. A magazine has accused Desi of adultery and Lucille is pregnant, both of them working to fight off accusations of Lucille being a communist. Sorkin takes creative license and shoves all of this into one chaotic week of fallout, played out between table reads and rehearsals. 

Performances are far from an issue here, and it shouldn’t be surprising that Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem are the best parts of this film. Bardem, outside of the problems with casting a Spanish actor to play a Cuban, is perfectly suited for the role. He sells the intelligence and charm of Arnaz, and buries the insecurities and narrow ideas of masculinity just under the surface. On the other side of this famous romance, Kidman brings us the quick-witted, sharp version of Ball. Kidman is exceptional, so it begs the question of why put her under garish and sometimes off-putting prosthetics? 

The answer could any number of reasons, but the primary one feels solely tied to the director. Sorkin may have perfected his writing style, which is still fantastic here, but his direction is generally soulless, and thus relying on period accurate appearances and occasionally tedious production jargon can serve to elevate what he lacks from the director’s chair. In some ways, it does work for Being the Ricardos. It’s at least entertaining, and the same can’t be said for past efforts. 

Some vintage Sorkin ‘walk and talks’ bring some life and energy to the experience, but there’s far too many scenes that drag in between those moments. While scenes surrounding the process of blocking ‘I Love Lucy’ and Lucille Ball working on the physical comedy beats and their timing are fascinating on an individual basis, they often go on for too long or just don’t add anything to film. And by the time the third act rolls around, it all falls apart for a climax that feels forced and anti-climatic. 

Being the Ricardos is far from bad, but it doesn’t get close to its potential. With two Hollywood icons at its center, the story of their lives should be thrilling enough to maintain a two hour film, and yet, there are so many scenes here that are either messy or too long. Kidman and Bardem are great, and the script from Sorkin delivers enough of what makes him great to make the film that much better, but it would benefit everyone if Sorkin let other people direct in the future. 

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