“We’ve been through worse than this.”
If you listen carefully, you can hear the theme from I Love Lucy as a black and white heart appears upon the television screen. I’ve always found myself to be a fan of the classic show ever since I was a child—watching the reruns on Nick at Nite. An average New York City couple: a talented band leader husband and a mischievous stay-at-home wife. A simplistic show, although sidesplittingly funny, the witticisms between the characters always struck me to my very core, and continue to do so until this very day. But all jokes aside, Aaron Sorkin’s latest venture, Being the Ricardos, aims to take a much more serious look at the famous comedy duo that is Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.
Being the Ricardos begins at the start of a filming week for season 1 episode 22 of I Love Lucy. A hysterical episode by the name of “Fred and Ethel Fight,” which if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. It seems to be an ordinary week on set, but after Walter Winchell’s latest radio broadcast, the media ran with the headlines—in large red letters—“Lucille Ball a Red.” Due to McCarthyism, the word “Communist” attached to anyone’s name would have you blackballed from anything in show business. Lucy and Desi’s lives, partnerships with CBS and Phillip Morris, not to mention the show, were all in jeopardy.
Now when it was first announced that Nicole Kidman would be playing the famous Lucille Ball, I didn’t find myself on the social media wave crying for the recasting in Debra Messing’s favor. It never sounded like the story would focus on the Lucy we knew from TV, rather the dramatic side her family and close friends knew her to have. The problem here is that the two main actors, Kidman and Javier Bardem, revealing in their recent interviews, didn’t know the how powerful these figures were in the business. It was almost as though they checked a box and agreed to play these people. Making Bardem into a “Rico Suavé,” as much as a business type figure, was a must, but not achievable in this situation, and with this actor. Sure, Bardem is not bad looking, but his face is often too rugged compared to Desi’s softer features. The issues of Bardem’s non-Cuban lineage aside, he just doesn’t look the part. And through his singing, he definitely doesn’t sound the part. It’s a square peg in a round hole. He’s okay in his portrayal, but nothing screams Desi, in my opinion. He’s just… Javier.
As for Kidman, I can take her or leave her performance. To be honest, I was actually pleased with it a bit more than Bardem’s, but I’m usually blown away by her acting. While I felt like Bardem’s performance dealt more with the business side and the “will the show keep running if Lucy is declared a Communist,” Kidman deals more with Lucy’s crumbling relationship with Desi and if he’s secretly having affairs. Lucy’s monologue to Vivian Vance (Nina Arianda), and William Frawley (J.K. Simmons) is probably the best scene in the film, which Kidman plays incredibly vulnerable as she fights internally with the issues of her marriage and why she agreed to do the show in the first place—pouring herself into her work to escape her troubles.
But as much as I put the brunt of the film’s problems on the actors’ performances, and how lackluster they are, I must say—very bluntly, I might add—that Sorkin has no business in the directing chair. Sorkin is probably one of the best screenwriters to ever work in the movie industry, but that does not give him a free pass in directing. His past three screenplays have all been directed by him. Molly’s Game was good not great. Trial of Chicago 7 was highly problematic, and laughable during parts that were supposed to be dramatic. Now we have Being the Ricardos, and it’s just another incredibly dull film—filled with mediocrity. He’s given the opportunity to work with some of the best talents in Hollywood, and yet these actors turn in some of their weakest performances.
I believe that after watching Being the Ricardos the complexity of Lucy and Desi’s relationship can’t be diluted to a 2 hour film. They were able to change the trajectory of television forever through their innovation. But by the time I Love Lucy filmed their final episode, it was said that none of the four major actors were really speaking to one other on set. There are somethings that work with Being the Ricardos and many things that don’t. This project may have been doomed from the start—never really having the velocity to take off. Maybe Lucy and Desi are just two magnanimous people whose lives are better left untold.
Being the Ricardos
Directed by: Aaron Sorkin
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem, Nina Arianda, Tony Hale, Alia Shawkat, Jake Lacy, and J.K. Simmons