In many ways, “Being Ricardo” Aaron Sorkin’s film about Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, is an enigmatic business. The film – which will be released in some cinemas on December 10 and continues to be screened Amazon Prime Video on December 21 – takes place during a week in the early 1950s when “I love Lucy” had become extremely popular.
The story goes back to how Ball and Arnaz met, but the plot revolves around whether Ball’s brief association with the Communist Party years ago would turn into a major scandal at a time when the country is rife with anti-communist sentiment.
Since anyone who has paid any attention to pop culture in recent decades already knows that “I Love Lucy” has continued to be a huge success and that Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz helped create the classic TV sitcom model, there is not a ton suspense to wonder if their careers were ruined by the blacklist.
Given this, writer-director Aaron Sorkin must provide something else to keep us interested. And, despite some good times, “Being the Ricardos” is not enough. As Ball, Nicole Kidman gives a conscientious, rather joyless interpretation, and distracts attention that does not look much like Lucy, nor does she look like herself. Kidman’s actors are not made to look like the actors they play, which helps Javier Bardem (as Desi), JK Simmons (as William Frawley) and Nina Arianda (as Vivian Vance) to relax a bit more in their performances. .
Despite Sorkin’s efforts to draw us into the relationship between Ball and Arnaz, “Being the Ricardos” remains largely on the surface, with its best scenes reminiscent of a workplace comedy. As the least recognizable creative team behind “I Love Lucy”, Alia Shawkat and Jake Lacy (as writers Madelyn Pugh and Bob Carroll Jr.) and Tony Hale (as writer-producer Jess Oppenheimer) are more fun than Kidman and Bardem.
More than anything else, “Being the Ricardos” is an example of how porous the line between movies and television has become. When Ball was a national sensation as Lucy Ricardo, her success was even more impressive because, despite working in cinema since the 1930s, Ball had never stood out as a big star. “I Love Lucy” represented the perfect role for Ball’s talents as an actor and physical comedian, and made the most of it, creating a character that, more than 50 years later, still makes us laugh. (For more on Ball’s life and career, take a look at Season 3 of the exciting documentary podcast from Turner Classic Movies, «The Plot Thickens».)
Although Ball appeared in films after “I Love Lucy”, she is remembered not for these films, but as a television star. The gap between film and television has remained for years, with movie stars rarely turning to television, a move generally seen as a decline in prestige. Likewise, the actors who were successful on television were celebrated if they could make it to the movies, an achievement they achieved, to name a few, Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, Goldie Hawn, John Travolta, Tom Hanks, Sally Field, Robin Williams, Bruce Willis and Will Smith.
The gap between cinema and television has become less huge as the media has changed. Long before the pandemic affected movie attendance, moviegoers were faced with fewer and fewer options. Want to see an extravagant budget for superheroes for which audiences around the world buy tickets? You’re lucky!
Do you crave subtle stories about complex characters and situations that are not summarized in one tone of a sentence? That’s where television came in, thanks to shows like “The Sopranos,” “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad” and “The Wire.”
Now, thanks to the dual clash of more streaming services and reduced pandemic appetite for movie screenings, more movies are appearing on streaming services at the same time they open in theaters. And a growing number of stars – speaking of Tom Hanks – are making movies for streaming services.
“Being the Ricardos” is a perfect example of a project with one foot on TV and the other in movies. Aaron Sorkin has worked in theater and film and has been a hit on television, with series such as “The West Wing” and “The Newsroom”. As the writer and director of last year’s “The Trial of Chicago 7,” Sorkin directed another film that received some theatrical distribution before its Netflix debut.
In addition, thanks to television and series such as “Big Little Lies” and “The Undoing”, Kidman was able to play much more interesting and multi-layered roles than you would find in the typical superhero movie epic.
Perhaps it’s the involvement of Sorkin and Kidman – and the legendary TV creators at the heart of the story – that makes “Being the Ricardos” disappointing. With more time spent with Lucy, Desi, their relationship and the behind-the-scenes details of creating a classic TV show, “Being the Ricardos” has the background of a juicy mini-series. Too bad the movie looks like a missed opportunity.
“Being the Ricardos” premieres at some theaters in the area on Friday. will be broadcast on Amazon Prime Video from December 21.
– Kristi Turnquist
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