Time: 131 minutes
Nicole Kidman as Lucille Ball
Javier Bardem as Desi Arnaz
J.K. Simmons as William Frawley
Nina Arianda as Vivian Vance
Tony Hale as Jess Oppenheimer
Alia Shawkat as Madelyn Pugh
Jake Lacy as Bob Carroll Jr.
Clark Gregg as Howard Wenke
Director: Aaron Sorkin
In 1952, Hollywood power couple Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz face personal and professional obstacles that threaten their careers, their relationship, and their hit television show.
Being the Ricardos was a upcoming major awards contender that I had been hearing about for a while. I will admit though that despite not knowing much about it outside of some of the people involved, I was a little sceptical going in. First of all, it was a biopic movie focussing on notable film/tv people, and the movie looked like prime Oscar bait. Also the movie is written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, whose work could be a mixed bag at times, especially when it comes to whatever he directs. Still, it received Oscar nominations for the performances from Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem and J.K. Simmons, so I thought I should check it out, and went into it open minded. Unfortunately, I just don’t think that the movie was particularly good.
I should state first of all that I am not familiar with Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz or the show I Love Lucy, and went into this movie quite blind. However, even as someone who didn’t know of the subjects beforehand, I just didn’t find the film all that interesting, and I found it fairly dull. If the story of Lucille and Desi in real life was interesting, it certainly didn’t survive being compressed and repackaged into the biopic formula. The story of the movie follows Lucille and Desi over one stressful week, it seems simple enough but somehow the storytelling is very flawed here. The story as it was told just felt so disjointed, while the series of events play out over this particular week, it jumps across multiple points in time with an overreliance on flashbacks and flashforwards which muddles everything. To give context to all these events messily crammed into this movie, characters spent a lot of time stating facts about each other or clunkily discussing historical and cultural elements. For whatever reason, there is this present-day faux documentary framing device running throughout the movie where older versions of the three lead show writers for I Love Lucy are being interviewed. Every so often, the movie would just cut to these talking head mouthpieces, and every time this happened, it would be so disruptive and annoying. The dialogue was already on the nose and obvious, but the fact that they practically spoonfeed us the story by flat out telling us what is happening, it almost feels patronising. Count the number of times you hear “what you’ve got to understand is…” from one character alone.
Even as someone who aren’t familiar with the true life events, there’s some handling of the history that felt very off. The prime example is this inconsequential aspect where Lucille Ball is rumoured to be a communist. Even within the plot of the movie, it plays a very small part, but from the very beginning of the film it is fixated and focused on so much, to a quite frankly weird degree. You really get the feeling that this is getting into the writer’s own politics over the actual true events. The way that subplot is resolved towards the end in a scene with Javier Bardem on a phone call in front of an audience is hilariously absurd and ludicrous. I didn’t really learn anything from this storyline, the only thing that I can say coming out of it is that I’m confident that Aaron Sorkin would’ve been a supporter of the Hollywood Blacklist. Speaking of Sorkin, you can definitely feel that it’s a movie from him, and I mean that in a bad way. You really do feel like he’s really going for an Oscar here, and it somehow makes the movie even worse. His scripts always seem to have this self-perception of cleverness but it is especially grating here, the faux documentary framing device being an example of one of his decisions that make it harder to watch. Even when you put all of that aside, I just found myself so unengaged by the film as it progresses through the events. I couldn’t be emotionally engaged with the characters, and there was nothing keeping me invested in the story. There was just something dispassionate and underwhelming about the whole experience.
I would love to say that the acting elevates the movie. While it’s the best part of the movie, its not enough to save the movie. The acting is mostly decent, but much of the cast feel like they are playing caricatures rather than real people. Nicole Kidman is pretty good as Lucille Ball, even if it definitely doesn’t rank amongst her best performances. I will say that annoyingly with the writing she’s given, Lucille does feel like another ‘Sorkin protagonist’, much like how Sorkin wrote Steve Jobs and Abbie Hoffman. To Kidman’s credit though, she comes across as being a fully formed human, especially in contrast to the other actors. It’s just that there weren’t any times throughout the film where I felt that it was anything beyond a decent performance. Javier Bardem is the co-lead in this as Desi Arnaz. He’s fine enough, but like Kidman, its definitely not one of his best performances. Questionable casting choice aside, he is a bit of a caricature and is very hammy. Definitely not bland or boring, but nothing great. The chemistry between Kidman and Bardem just wasn’t there, which is a big mark against it considering that the relationship between the two people was a key part of the movie. J.K. Simmons and Nina Arianda are serviceable in their supporting roles, but don’t get much to do with the writing that they are given.
Being the Ricardos is directed by Aaron Sorkin, and this film is further proof that Sorkin is at his best when his scripts are directed by anyone else. While the direction is competent, its done so blandly and lacks any kind of personality, especially on a visual level. Even his last two movies had more to them. The costumes, hair, makeup, presentation is nothing special, everything feels like they’re on autopilot.
I’m sure that the actual story of these people is quite interesting. However, what is presented here is a functional but uninteresting, bland and occasionally grating to watch biopic that fails to engage, from the writing through to the direction. Even the performances aren’t good enough to elevate the movie beyond an average biopic. I’d only recommend this movie to people who want to catch up on the Oscar nominations from this most recent awards season. For what it’s worth, Being the Ricardos was by far the worst movie of this year’s Oscar season that I’ve seen.