If you’re not a fan of Aaron Sorkin, there’s very few projects he could take on that would make you a fan. Between The West Wing, The Newsroom, Steve Jobs, Molly’s Game and The Trial of the Chicago 7, Sorkin has crafted some really intellectually exciting projects, in my opinion. He’s a stronger writer than director, and lately he’s been doing both, for better and for worse. Being the Ricardos is kind of all over the place. But what’s weak isn’t that weak, and what’s strong and sharp is icepick sharp and incredibly cutting. And it’s absolutely worth watching, if for no other reason than this is probably the best I’ve seen Nicole Kidman, maybe ever?
Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) and Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem) are already living legends, stars of the iconic sitcom I Love Lucy. During one critical week of production, a newspaper reports that Lucille Ball is a communist, and the couple must deal with the fallout. Also, Ball just found out she’s pregnant, and must convince the suits at CBS to write her pregnancy into the show, and this was just not done in those days. And also, a newspaper has reported Arnaz has been cheating on Ball. Also, there’s a weird faux documentary thing we keep cutting to where we have actors playing older versions of the people in the writers’ room that week. And there’s about a million other things going on.
If this were a biopic to focus on one week in these icons’ lives, that would’ve been fantastic. I think that’s the best kind of biopic. A shorter time period to focus on allows the viewer to see how important and influential its subject was in a grander sense, and doesn’t have to follow its characters from childhood to death. Recent examples of this working include Pablo Larrain’s Spencer and Marielle Heller’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. But that’s not exactly what Being the Ricardos is, even though that’s what it promises. It moves back and forth between that and this bizarre faux documentary structure, where there’s a bunch of flashbacks and flash forwards and you never know when anything is happening because there are no title cards on the screen telling you.
However. This is one of Nicole Kidman’s very best performances. This was originally supposed to go to Cate Blanchett, with Kidman replacing her due to scheduling conflicts. This was not a popular decision, and Kidman is so great, I love that she can keep proving everyone wrong. She may not be the best choice for playing Lucy, but she is absolutely without a doubt the best choice for playing Lucille Ball. If this movie is to be believed, Lucille Ball was a badass with a say in everything that happened on her show, and this is a great way to celebrate a creative person’s process. Lucille Ball as an Aaron Sorkin heroine seems like it makes no sense conceptually, but in the end, I’m very happy he decided to take this on.
Kidman doesn’t really have romantic chemistry with Javier Bardem but I don’t think she has to. This movie is not about how these two people loved each other. Early on, someone says something like “It was Lucy and Desi, if they weren’t tearing each other’s heads off, they were tearing each other’s clothes off,” and that sentiment really captures this relationship. They don’t need the romantic chemistry when they have business chemistry, and that part of the Ball/Arnaz relationship is more interesting than any rom-com focusing on this iconic duo could be. Javier Bardem is also doing very good work, but this is Kidman’s show through and through.
We also have a very good supporting cast, with JK Simmons as William Frawley, who played Fred on Lucy, and he’s fantastic as always. Nina Arianda, playing Vivian Vance (Ethel) is also great. We also have Tony Hale, Alia Shawkat and Jake Lacy as Lucy writers, including living legend Linda Lavin as the older Madelyn Pugh. But again, this is more of a two-hander that is in reality, just a big old showcase for one of the greatest movie stars of our time.
If you’re not a fan of Aaron Sorkin this will not be the one that converts you. He maybe should stop directing and just focus on writing. A better director could have reigned in his vision and given this thing a tighter focus, and perhaps made the overall impact even stronger. But overall I very much enjoyed Being the Ricardos, even with its flaws. It’s mainly due to the screenplay and the sheer authority of Kidman’s explosive performance, which might be the best leading actress performance I’ve seen all year. Maybe.