BEING THE RICARDOS
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem
Directed by: Aaron Sorkin
Running Time: 2 hrs 11 mins
Director/writer Aaron Sorkin again demonstrates why he is one of the greatest screenplay writers alive today with the wonderfully entertaining “Being the Ricardos.” A quasi biopic told over the span of five days in 1953, “Being the Ricardos” contains rich, rapid-fire dialogue spoken with expert craftmanship by its exemplary cast, most particularly between Nicole Kidman as Lucille Ball and Javier Bardem as Desi Arnaz. Although Sorkin missteps a couple of times, it doesn’t mean this newest creation of his should not be considered for a few Oscar nominations.
When we are first introduced to Lucille and Desi, it’s clear that they have a tumultuous relationship, one in which she always lives in fear that her husband is cheating on her. This proves to be just part of the issues they have over a five-day span that begins with influential syndicated radio news commentator Walter Winchell announcing to the world that Lucille is a communist. It was the age of McCarthyism and if you were accused of being a “Red” then it meant your career was over. In the case of Lucille and Desi, it is presented as a looming specter that could end their show.
As the saying goes, the show must go on and so, they forge ahead with getting the next show ready to be performed in front of a live TV audience. The process makes for an interesting, backstage glimpse into how a television comedy was made in the 1950s, but more importantly, Sorkin lets us into the inner workings of America’s favorite couple for a sliver of time. Of course, like with any TV family, reality is not the fantasy everyone sees on the screen. Their relationship is a roller coaster and spills over to involve everyone around them.
Sorkin, a four-time Oscar nominee for screenplay writing, including one win in 2011 for “The Social Network,” throws the fast-paced rhythm of the story out of whack when he intersperses documentary-style interviews in “modern day” with two writers and an executive producer who were there. These scenes are more of a distraction than anything else. He also plays with the historical timeline a bit by having Lucille and Desi announce their pregnancy even though in real life it occurred a year before the events of “Being the Ricardos” occurred. While it’s a bit misleading, it does help add another layer of tension to the story since saying the word “pregnant” was taboo on television then. (One of Sorkin’s greatest moves is when he puts us into Lucille’s mind as we watch in black and white how she devises corrections to scenes in the script.)
Kidman delivers one of the best performances of her career, never mind that the makeup department for “Being the Ricardos” made her face look plastic. She channels Lucille’s strength and determination in a blatantly sexist world where men always had the last word. Her Lucille comes off as someone who was not only a genuine trailblazer, but someone who can be looked upon with enhanced respect and admiration. However, she brings out her frailties as well, including an unwillingness to bend at times.
Bardem may not resemble Desi, who was 36 in 1953 and his portrayer was 51 when the film was shot, but it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things as he brings out the soul of the Cuban born singer/actor in spectacular fashion. Like Kidman with Lucille, he portrays a myriad of complexities in his character that no one could see by watching “I Love Lucy.”
Additionally, Oscar-winner J.K. Simmons (“Whiplash”) and Tony-award winner Nina Arianda deliver brilliant supporting performances as cantankerous William Frawley, who played Fred Mertz, and Vivian Vance, who played Ethel Mertz. They nailed their portrayals of two people who may have shared great on-screen chemistry yet could hardly get along with each other off screen.
Overall, “Being the Ricardos” is a delightful drama, especially if you love fantastic, fast-paced dialogue with a focus on character development.