Much was said about Being the Ricardos before it even screened for critics, with the fact that stars Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem were somewhat controversial casting choices to play Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Neither looks considerably like the legendary comedic performers, which left a certain sour taste in the mouths of those wondering would Aaron Sorkin‘s biopic be at all worthy of a watch. If it was headlined by actors who don’t look like its subjects, would the rest of the film be just as lazy?
Not exactly lazy as it is a little disjointed, Being the Ricardos doesn’t stumble under the weight of Kidman or Bardem – both more than proving their detractors wrong, particularly Kidman – but Sorkin’s approach to the narrative feels unclear as to just what exactly he wants to execute. He isn’t exactly spoiled for choice though, with the majority of the film centred the weekly schedule that comes with framing an episode of famed sitcom I Love Lucy. In addition to table reads, camera blocking, and perfecting each joke though, Lucille’s personal life comes under attack, at once facing accusations of being a communist and the suspicion of Desi’s infidelity.
The film lifts the curtain on Lucille and Desi’s harsh reality, with their united front in the workplace a stark contrast to their home life where they are at odds with one another. In fact much is suggested that it’s because of their distance from one another that I Love Lucy was essentially created in order for Lucille to be closer to Desi; much of the film implementing flashbacks that highlight their individual career moves oft kept them separated. Though at times these flashbacks can play fast and loose with just where exactly it sits within their career timelines, Sorkin manages an interesting concept when focusing on Lucille’s process in the week of preparation prior to filming. Though she’s somewhat open to collaboration, the shrewd perfectionist Lucille apparently was makes way for a riveting character study. Lucy was, for lack of a better word, a simpleton. Lucille was not.
Given how much of a trailblazer Lucille Ball truly was, it makes sense that Being the Ricardos would intertwine feminist themes within its narrative. She’s in a constant push-pull with the male figureheads involved with the show, highlighting the difficulty a woman faces in such an industry, and when that woman is Lucille Ball, it makes her struggles all the more infuriating. She may not have always been the easiest woman to work with, but her aim for perfection shouldn’t be mistaken for arrogance, though the unintentional emasculation she projects onto Desi leans into his supposed infidelity being tied more so to his stature as a man of power rather than someone who no longer loves his wife.
Being the Ricardos was always going to be something of an uphill battle for Sorkin. Kidman and Bardem do fine work in roles that I imagine would be dubbed untouchable by the industry, though the loose structure in its storytelling and the overall detachment from reality keeps this drama-lite insight a Lucy that we like more than love.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Being the Ricardos will be available to stream on Amazon Prime Video from December 21st, 2021.