BEING THE RICARDOS (AMAZON PRIME) (2021)
SYNOPSIS: Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) and Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem) are threatened by shocking personal accusations, a political smear and cultural taboos in Academy Award®-winning writer and director Aaron Sorkin’s behind-the-scenes drama Being the Ricardos. A revealing glimpse of the couple’s complex romantic and professional relationship, the film takes audiences into the writers’ room, onto the soundstage and behind closed doors with Ball and Arnaz during one critical production week of their groundbreaking sitcom “I Love Lucy.”
Director and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin is not your typical “for hire” screenwriter because he is well known for his character-driven, intelligently written scripts. His glowing resume includes Moneyball, A few Good Men, The West Wing and of course, an Oscar for his work on The Social Network.
Being the Ricardos is his self-penned, third directorial effort, a long gestating project which initially has Cate Blanchett attached to play Lucille Ball. For the uninitiated, Ball was an American comedian known for her ultra-successful sitcom, I Love Lucy (1951-1957) also starring her husband, Desi Arnaz.
This is where things start to be a bit tricky. Being the Ricardos is not exactly a simple show-and-tell biography on the late celebrity couple. In fact, Sorkin takes audiences on a journey with the powerhouse couple over a span of a very bad week where Ball is confronted by news headlines that she is a communist, her husband’s infidelity, her desire to jump from television to movies and disagreements from her co-star, writers, producer and sponsors.
There’s lots to cover for a drama that runs slightly over just two hours but Sorkin sure knows how to run a tight ship. Along the way, Sorkin employs frequent usage of flashbacks and re-enact certain classic scenes from the sitcom in black-and-white. The plotting certainly is promising as we are exposed to the couple’s complex marriage which were actually on the verge of collapsing despite their almost perfect chemistry onscreen.
Ball was more than just a clowning presence on television. She knew the meaning behind precise comic timing and storytelling, she was also an actress with ambitions. Opposite Arnaz, the Cuban musician who was the ultimate problem solver behind-the-scenes and solid entertainer on stage, they were the perfect Hollywood couple. However, this is also where Sorkin’s movie starts to quiver, there are simply too much distractions to provide a far more insight into their bittersweet relationship.
Clearly, Nicole Kidman is a fantastic actress but she seems kind of miscast as the legendary lively comedian. Spanish actor Javier Bardem on the whole is likeable and charismatic as the womanising Arnaz. The actors who played the Ricardos’ neighbours, J.K. Simmonds and Nina Arianda are brilliant for the most part. Performers aside, Sorkin’s presentation of how the television industry in the 1950s works is also an eye-opener.
To this reviewer, I Love Lucy was one of his favourite sitcoms when he was still a very young child as most people probably understood Ball’s comedic mannerisms without any fluent command of English. Even though Sorkin’s treatment of the material is more of a fictionalised account and less of a biopic, it’s still a nostalgic viewing experience catching Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz back on television in Technicolor.
Review by Linus Tee