'Being The Ricardos' review: Nicole Kidman dazzles as Lucille Ball in Aaron Sorkin drama
Courtesy of Amazon
A much deeper and calculated approach to the livelihood and work ethic of Lucille Ball and her husband/”I Love Lucy” co-star Desi Arnaz than one might imagine, Aaron Sorkin’s latest directorial effort “Being The Ricardos” offers a unique perspective on two of Hollywood’s most beloved icons. In Sorkin’s third outing behind the camera, following the solid critical success of both “Molly’s Game” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” “Being the Ricardos” has an attitude and versatility those projects didn’t and her name is Nicole Kidman. Though many question what a Lucille Ball played by Kidman would look like, it’s a performance that doesn’t rely on caricature, but comes alive as the Oscar winning screenwriter, rather than make a traditional biopic, has crafted a juicy framing device to sustain the film.
Sorkin builds the film around one hellish week in the lives of Ball and Desi Arnaz (played with rat-ta-tat flamboyance by Javier Bardem) and filters in real life testimonials of the producers and writers who actually worked on televisions highest rated sitcom “I Love Lucy.” It might seem a little too “When Harry Met Sally,” but the recurring motif grows on you despite the early moments feeling like it's in competition with itself. Through these dramatized flashbacks, the film visits the professional and personal relationship Ball shared with the cast and crew members, but mainly explores the dynamic shared with Desi. At the time a hot-shot studio executive who would eventually convince the CBS censors to allow Lucille be shown pregnant on air (the first of its kind), Desi was struggling to keep his marriage afloat amid a conspiracy/rumor that his wife was a member of the communist party and recently leaked tabloid photos of him with another woman.
There’s a perfectly reasonable explanation why Lucille checked the box, but it probably won’t satisfy the critics looking for a scoop. Same goes for Desi’s excuse of the photographs which only embolden Lucille’s growing suspicions (it would eventually tear their marriage apart) that her husband was unfaithful. Even though “Being the Ricarods” spends a good chunk of time on Desi and Lucille’s frailing relationship, Sorkin still finds time to showcase the creative spirit and genius of Ball. Her ability to completely recontextualize a comedic sequence with a snap of her finger and stand toe-to-toe with executive producer Jess Oppenheimer (a wonderful Tony Hale) about on-set treatment was unparalleled at the time. She fought back against ditzy stereotypes and defended her audience's intellectual stamina, arguing they were smarter than what producers were leading on. If “Being the Ricardos” leaves you with anything, it’s that Lucille Ball was a force of nature who dared you to challenge her. It was her world, everyone else was just living in it.
Even if you’ve never seen an episode of “I Love Lucy,” “Being the Ricardos” transcends that barrier, amplified by the casting of JK Simmons in a hilarious supporting turn as the crusty curmudgeon William Frawley and Nine Arianda as the wholesome Vivian Vance. Sorkin has always been impressive in the way he creates visual mediums to reflect the topsy turvy world of television (check out “The Newsroom” if you haven’t already). He exceeds those expectations with “Being the Ricardos” by offering a deeply layered peak behind the endlessly fascinating Lucille Ball mantra. Sorkin doesn’t write the most poetic ending, but’s an affirmation of everything that came before. Mrs. Ball might not have been able to salvage her marriage, this after taking the “I Love Lucy” gig for the sole reason of keeping Desi from touring with his successful band and becoming tempted, she found a new way to get back up and stand for something greater: herself.
BEING THE RICARDOS opens in theaters Friday, December 10th and debuts on Amazon Prime Video Dec 21st.