Being the Ricardos is addictive, movie magic.
This review of the Amazon film Being the Ricardos does not contain spoilers.
Idealistic? Even romanticized? Sure, it’s Aaron Sorkin. But the feeling I had coming out of the Being the Ricardos screening was that of goosebumps. Honest to God, goosebumps. Why? Because very few filmmakers can write dialogue the way Aaron Sorkin can. The playwright and television icon’s script is filled with incredible witty, snappy dialogue perfectly timed by its talented cast. His words make the movie fly by. Combined with a beloved subject matter, Being the Ricardos is addictive, movie magic.
Want to shut up the cynics? Well, Nicole Kidman did with a spectacular performance. She plays America’s first beloved redhead, Lucille Ball, who starred in the legendary sitcom when it was at its rabid peak. That thought was about to be put to the test as Ball was put in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) for marking the box for communist party affiliation in college. Her husband, Desi (Bardem), mansplains to her we will say you checked the wrong box. Brilliant, right?
This is where Sorkin plays with modern themes as true now as they were decades prior. Ball was a gifted comic genius. Behind the scenes, she successfully managed the I love Lucy room after clawing her way into a position of esteem. Yet, she was associated with her character. A dimwitted woman instead of her genius and decades ahead of her time. While she struggles with her public image, one of the writers, Madlyn (a flawless Alia Shawkat), brilliantly demonstrates her issues with the titular character’s portrayal of women, telling Lucy, “She says, “Waaaaahhhhh!”
And speaking of image problems, the media is all over Desi and Lucy asking if her husband loves her. Now, questions of affairs have hit the papers. Even sending Lucy into jealous fits where he genuinely charms her down by proving it’s just tabloid journalism at its worst. What could cover up these smear tactics? How about Lucy being pregnant! Desi wants to be the first show to publicly acknowledge a woman can get pregnant on television. And even sleep in the same bed with her husband. The problem is this just wasn’t done at the time. (Though Sorkin doesn’t bother to explore using the child as a way to cover up the communist accusations and stories of marital affairs).
Much has been made of the casting of Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem as the iconic and legendary comic duo of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez. The pro-Debra Messing crowd showed up in droves, hammering social media with their Will & Grace love for their I Love Lucy tribute episode. The anti-Bardem jeers were not quite as bold, but you can’t argue that handsome, humungous bobblehead he has, looks nothing like Arnaz.
The Lucy you get for most of the film is the brilliant, blunt, sassy woman with a sultry voice. The one you saw in interviews outside her character. She transforms into Ball, and you forget you’re watching a performance, but behind the scenes views of the real thing. Not to mention the expertly assembled sets of those famous bits. Like the grape stomping episode, Kidman looks and sounds just like her. On the other end, you can never quite shake Bardem’s Arnaz and they don’t even bother to fix the issue. (He was much more boyish in terms of looks). You cannot deny he captures the figure’s considerable charms. He’s brilliant here and simply magnetic.
By the way, has there ever been better casting than J.K. Simmons and Nina Arianda as William Frawley and Vivian Vance? Yes, the love fest here continues. Simmons and Arianda together display the well-documented pairs’ hatred for each other. She detests the fact she is playing a woman older than her age. All because she doesn’t look like a movie star. Frawley is resentful for her attitude over his age, being 22-years her senior. Of course, it’s played for laughs rather than offering serious depth. Tony Hale also stands out as the show executive producer, Jess Oppenheimer. He plays the Leo McGarry of the film to the famous married couple.
Everything comes together beautifully. The costumes and sets are flawless that bringing the sitcom trappings to life. Sorkin was lucky enough to have David Fincher’s long-time director of photography, Jeffrey Scott Cronenweth, as the film’s cinematographer. Daniel Pemberton’s euphonious musical score pairs well with Sorkin’s harmonious dialogue.
The plotting has the writer/director’s signature timeline changes, going through the couple’s backstory. And full of scenes where people stop to tell a grand personal story about inner feelings no one has heard before. This is his sophomore effort behind the camera, and it’s his best yet. Sorkin may have his detractors, and nothing here will probably change that. The complaints or characters sounding alike and parroting, cold instead of warm, and scenes feeling too pristine and sterile than vibrant and alive are valid here.
But those are preferences, not faults, and Being the Ricardos is an all-encompassing entertainment of classic Hollywood lore while folding in provocative themes of equality, freedoms, and government mistrust.
It bears repeating— Sorkin’s film is addictive movie magic.