If there’s a hint of affection for the subject at the heart of Being the Ricardos, the latest from Aaron Sorkin, then it’s buried in soaked piles of overwrought dialogue and oversimplified characterizations. Failing yet again to demonstrate any style or substance to his filmmaking that would suggest where the undue confidence comes from to step into the director’s chair, the sooner Sorkin realizes his best bet is to only pen the scripts while leaving the direction in more capable hands, the quicker audiences will begin to take his name seriously again. If the tepid Molly’s Game or The Trial of the Chicago 7, it had little to do with Sorkin’s aimless direction. To date he’s yet to command the visual medium to the same caliber that he has with his writing in the past, too reliant on wordiness and explaining scenes and moments rather than allowing them to play out naturally.
Not to say that the script for Being the Ricardos is anything worthy of note – it is not. That said, it’s clear the field in which Sorkin operates best, with an ear for didactic dialogue that, with the right performers, can bounce between whoever is on screen. In his latest, what is supposed to be an ode to Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) of I Love Lucy in a tumultuous period in her life as she’s facing accusations of communism, learning about possible infidelity from her husband Desi (Javier Bardem) and a pregnancy announcement, all the cusp of their second season, is instead a hollow and pandering salute to a bygone era of television.
The introduction of the film should’ve been a clear enough indicator of the quality to come, opening with a bizarre talking head style interview as actors play older versions of characters who worked on the show and talk about how the week in question frames the film was one of the hardest weeks onset periods. He continues to utilize this format for the remainder of the film, interjections that abruptly cut off any rhythm the film possessed up until that point.
There’s an overreliance in regards to complaining about telling not showing in the film – dialogue exists for a reason – but Sorkin’s script is rife with examples of unnecessarily overwritten lines to handhold the audience to the right conclusion. In a scene where all the men in the room continually ask Lucille if she’s being funny, she curtly replies by saying:
“I’m Lucille Ball, when I’m being funny, you’ll know it.”
What surely was meant to be a got you moment of zippy dialogue instead is transformed into a beat of fundamentally not understanding the person being detailed. She didn’t need to remind the room of this – she certainly didn’t need to speak aloud what viewers already know but Sorkin can’t help but careen forwards in his attempt to make sure every single person in the room understands what he’s trying to say.
The performers are largely fine, though those who were skeptical about the casting of Kidman and Bardem won’t be having their minds swayed anytime soon. Kidman does better work with her accent than the past would have led us to believe and when she acts out Lucille’s performance she’s at her best as a megastar who grew to flame later than many of her contemporaries. However, when she’s asked to be in character, she flounders, lacking the physicality and charisma necessary for this type of role.
Vivian is the most interesting character and Nina Arianda delivers a genuinely terrific performance as an actress standing in the shadows of the lead’s star power. She and J.K. Simmons as her onscreen husband William are the only two who evoke any real sympathy which, again, is largely a detriment to the script rather than the actors asked to infuse something vacant with something dazzling
Perhaps the most glaring indictment of the film, however, is how the pacing and the script so wholly miss the fact that I Love Lucy was so beloved for a reason – it was funny – and Ball was a masterful physical comedian and she and Desi shared palpable onscreen chemistry. There’s a trend of filmmakers and writers being incapable of capturing the essence of these classic shows beyond the aesthetic, instead of relying on cloying “aw shucks” style gags and exaggerated facial expressions and movements. Not only does this undercut the true ingenuity of the series but it also exposes the filmmaker in the question of not having done as much research as he should’ve.
Shot and lit so that it’s so staged to the point of being cheap, there’s little if anything to love here, despite the committed performances and an icon at the center who most definitely deserved greater handling. Instead, Lucille comes across as yet another prototype Sorkin character, his dialogue, and tone so homogenous across all of his work that’s started to get to a point where, no matter the character or era set in, lines could be swapped between films with little notice. With all of the resolution crammed into the last 15 minutes of the film, Being the Ricardos fails to illuminate, honor or even engage in the star’s life, substituting headlines for plot beats and tone and attitude for character development.
Perhaps one day a filmmaker better suited to tell Ball’s story will get a dream project greenlit but, for not, it’s best to simply stick with reruns.
‘Being the Ricardos’ is in select theaters now and arrives on Amazon Prime December 21st. Watch the trailer below.