Synopsis – Follows Lucy and Desi as they face a crisis that could end their careers and another that could end their marriage.
My Take – Despite being an avid fans of American sitcoms, I have never really seen ‘I Love Lucy’, after all it has been 70 years since the show first premiered, way before my time. Running between 1951 and 1957, for 180 episodes, garnering an audience of about 60 million each week.
A show which even after all these years is considered to be the single most influential series in television history with every other sitcom owing some form of stylistic debt to the program. However, what drew me into watching this one was the fact that it marked Aaron Sorkin‘s third directorial feature after Molly’s Game (2017) and The Trial Of The Chicago 7 (2020). Sorkin, who is mainly known for creating shows like The West Wing, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and The Newsroom, and for writing features like The Social Network (2010), Moneyball (2011) and Steve Jobs (2015), among others.
An expert in handling in biographical dramas, here, writer-director Sorkin turns his attention to Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball, the hottest married couple in America in the ’50’s and certainly the hottest married couple on television at the time, and takes us through a week in their lives as they navigate both professional and personal crisis. While the end result is far from his best works mainly due to its uneven tone, but as a film it sure does succeed in telling an entertaining and fascinating tale about an iconic comedic mastermind.
It also helps that the film’s leads carry the story forward on their own. This film needed Arnaz and Ball to have rock-solid chemistry and Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem deliver right on, despite looking nothing like them. Watching the two actors own the screen is in itself a not to be missed experience. Not a surprise since Sorkin is known for especially doing an excellent job in writing about intelligent people struggling with personal turmoil.
Taking place over the course of production of single episode of the show, the story follows Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman), whose life is rocked by two news stories.
One, about a newspaper preparing to run the story that she is a communist, despite being cleared by the commission for un-American activities, and the other a tabloid magazine implying that Desi Arnez (Javier Bardem), her Cuban-American husband, co-star and producer, is having an affair. To complicate matters further, Lucy and Desi also inform the already tensed production crew that she is pregnant, and controversially would like to include that into the story-line of the show.
Told from three perspectives, the film presents a compellingly lively account of a high-strung couple grappling with personal and professional crises and negotiating the pressures and demands of stardom. Here, writer-director Sorkin tries to give us a picture of Ball and Arnez’s domestic situation. He argues that while the couple seemed perpetually happy playing the butt of each other’s jokes for national entertainment, they were incredibly smart and receptive to each other’s talents. Like most star couples, while they’re constantly bickering about the most inane things on one hand, and also finishing each other’s sentences when it really matters.
We even get excellent flashbacks of how Lucille met Arnaz, their passionate romance, how Lucille was a talented actor who somehow did not break into lead roles, her move to radio and television as well as Arnaz’s skill and innovation in staging the show, which became the template for sitcoms.
There is a great deal of history and hysteria tucked into the story – the fictionalized incidents in the screenplay are all derived from true events. The writing imparts multiple layers that rest on both interpretation and ex positional detailing.
The film also does an excellent job of paying tribute to the iconic sitcom the story is based around. We get glimpses of the writer’s room where the writers develop specific episodes and what goes into writing sketches and gags for television. What emerges as ideas are tossed around, knocked down and constantly reworked is that tickling the funny bone is never as simple as it sounds.
In addition, there are moments where the actors recreate scenes from show, and the scenes where Ball steps in to pitch her ideas about the blocking of physical comedy to make the jokes better are riveting. The black and white recreations of I Love Lucy scenes are the highlights of the film. Sadly though by throwing all this into 131 minutes it also leaves the tone of the film uneven. In its attempt to pack too much into a week of the couple’s life parts of the narrative appear rushed and disorienting.
Performance wise, the two lead actors do not miss a trick as they bring alive the real-life television stars of another era. Without a doubt, Nicole Kidman delivers one of the most astonishing performances of her career here. Buried under pounds of makeup, Kidman is consistently compelling, and without a doubt deserves the Golden Globe win and an Oscar nomination. Javier Bardem, too, strikes it out of the park with impressive flourish. His Colombian accent can be a bit too much at times, but it never appears to be a mockery.
In supporting turns, J.K. Simmons, Tony Hale, Alia Shawkat and Nina Arianda stand out, while Clark Gregg, Jake Lacy, Nelson Franklin, Christopher Denham, Robert Pine, Linda Lavin and John Rubinstein do justice to their roles. On the whole, ‘Being the Ricardos‘ is an uneven yet entertaining biopic backed by superlative performances.
Directed – Aaron Sorkin
Rated – R
Run Time – 131 minutes