Photo | “Being the Ricardos” – Amazon Studios
“Being the Ricardos” kept winning me over by being interesting, despite being contrived and Nicole Kidman bearing no resemblance to Lucille Ball. Every time the format — which employed flashbacks, a fake documentary component and an onscreen countdown taking us through a week of production for “I Love Lucy” — bogged the story down, some bit of information or dialogue would lift the whole thing back up and make it watchable again. Usually, these saving graces came from the excellent supporting cast.
Writer and director Aaron Sorkin chose a pivotal moment in the careers of Lucille Ball and her husband, Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem), as the lens through which to look at their relationship. When the film opens, gossip superpower Walter Winchell has just accused Lucy of being a registered communist. Even as McCarthyism raged through Hollywood, she remained more concerned with gossip about her husband being unfaithful. Even if the physical resemblance to Lucy and Desi wasn’t always strong, the actors’ chemistry as a couple was never less than convincing. Bardem and Kidman are magnetic to see together, navigating many complex obstacles as a married couple who are also a creative powerhouse at the height of their influence.
Of course, Sorkin makes it fun and exciting to watch people write and produce a TV show. He gives us table reads that pack the suspense of a war room. It helps that sitting around that table are Alia Shawkat and Jake Lacy as the show’s writers, Madelyn Pugh and Bob Carroll, and Tony Hale as writer Jess Oppenheimer. That actually constitutes a mini “Arrested Development” reunion, which was joyous.
Even more key to the film’s success are Fred and Ethel — just like they were in “I Love Lucy.” Here portrayed by J.K. Simmons and Nina Arianda, they add so much breadth and depth to the story. Simmons’ usual authoritative presence translates perfectly to the actor William Frawley, a veteran of decades of vaudeville life who doesn’t love being lectured about comic timing and has fatherly advice for handling Arnaz’s male ego that is probably not that palatable for contemporary audiences.
Lucille Ball was a brilliant businesswoman and leader, and she ran up against issues at work and at home, but Sorkin’s handling of her role as a woman was occasionally too authentic for my taste. Sorkin really lionizes other men, and in most of his projects, the women, while brilliant and wonderful in their own right, still don’t get the full force of his writerly and directorial largesse.
Admittedly, Javier Bardem is dreamy and I can see why Sorkin feels strongly about him. The verbal sparring between Lucy and Desi is really engrossing, and the fact they are fighting not just over romance but creative work is refreshing. The behind-the-scenes battles of issues like depicting Lucy’s pregnancy, a huge taboo for the time, is simply fascinating, even if the film slightly changed the historical timeline to pack in more story.
An interest in old television shows would definitely increase your investment in “Being the Ricardos,” but really, if shows like “Mad Men” appeal to you, then you will find plenty to dig into in this sharp historical drama.
“Being the Ricardos” is now streaming on Amazon Prime.
New This Week:
“Moonfall”: A mysterious force knocks the moon from its orbit around Earth and sends it hurtling on a collision course with life as we know it. With mere weeks before impact and the world on the brink of annihilation, NASA executive and former astronaut Jo Fowler (Halle Berry) is convinced she has the key to saving us all — but only one astronaut from her past, Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson), and a conspiracy theorist, K.C. Houseman (John Bradley, “Game of Thrones”), believe her. These unlikely heroes will mount an impossible last-ditch mission into space, leaving behind everyone they love, only to find out our Moon is not what we think it is. All listed multiple theaters, Nexus Cinema Dining.
“Jackass Forever”: Steve-O and the rest of the gang return for another round of hilarious, wildly absurd and often dangerous displays of stunts and comedy. Special bonus content on the Feb. 3 release date includes about six minutes of exclusive “Jackass Forever” cast and filmmaker roundtables, specially cut for the opening night shows. All listed multiplex theaters, Nexus Cinema Dining.
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