Being the Ricardos

Year: 2021
Studio: Amazon Studios
Director: Aaron Sorkin
Writer: Aaron Sorkin
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem, JK Simmons, Nina Arianda, Tony Hale, Alia Shawkat, Jake Lacy, Clark Gregg

It was because of the work of Aaron Sorkin much more than any nostalgia for the show that made me want to see this film - I Love Lucy never played in my part of the world.

But it also promised a little bit of insight (albeit filtered through some creative license) into the way the pinnacle of the entertainment field – TV – worked in the era depicted.

The framing device is the red scare that saw Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) threatened with being blacklisted because of supposedly talking in support of communism far earlier in her life, but I found most of the plot more of a fly on the wall of what life was like for Ball, Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem) and their drive to bring the most popular show in history to American living rooms every week.

It details the characters, their relationships, their arguments, hopes and creative and personal disagreements (Ball's fears about Arnaz' infidelity is a running theme that does actually come to a head at the end) pretty effectively, although Sorkin's script assumes a good deal of understanding about how live network TV works and the gatling-gun pace of patter he directs doesn't help make the plot and character dynamics any more digestible.

On the upside, I was pretty fascinated by the way the two people who played the Arnaz neighbours/sidekicks (Nina Arianda and JK Simmons as Vivian Vance and Bill Frawley, who played Fred and Ethel) interacted with each other and those around them.

According to the story, Vance hated Frawley and constantly chided him for his lack of commitment and drunkenness, and he's so casual and uncaring about anything you indeed assume he's a deadbeat and a drunk, but when he asks a stressed-out Lucille across the street to his favourite bar in one scene, he turns out to be amongst the sharpest coworker she has.

Then there's a scene where Ball, apparently feeling insecure about how attractive Vance is getting, gives her a passive-aggressive dressing down designed to destroy her confidence, a salve for Ball's own insecurity about the threats to her career and marriage.

But those gems of emotional depth don't come up in the story very often, and if they do they're not as clear cut, buried under the frenetic pace and (clever, as expected) dialogue. It results in at least couple of great characters being somewhat buried. Alia Shawkat as Madelyn Pugh, one of the writers, is a great example but I never quite got a handle on whether she and Lucille were close confidants, sworn enemies or just worked together.

Kidman and Bardem are good enough actors and certainly look enough like Ball and Arnaz, and their chemistry is the fulcrum upon which all the drama balances, but the story throws its arms in a lot of other different directions a little too quickly to mean much before pulling back and immediately going somewhere else. The real protagonist of the story here is Sorkin himself.

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