Being the Ricardos (Review)
Writer and director Aaron Sorkin built his chops on stories about political intrigue and he's return to that theme with "Being the Ricardos." This one about the Red Scare of the 1950's. Mr. Sorkin has joined that generation of filmmakers who continue to revisit the era of World War II, the Holocaust and the Red Scare which led to the blacklisting of many in Hollywood. It's curious to see these themes are still being pumped out in films and television shows when we're in an era that has its own troubles and should be more immediate to today's filmmakers and creators.
That said, "Being the Ricardos" is a well-made film about a week in the life of Lucy (Nicole Kidman) and Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem) who up to that day ran the most popular- and most lucrative- television show in the medium's history. The good times come to a screeching halt when the most influential radio personality of the day, Walter Winchell, announced that Lucy is a registered communist. That label was the mark of death for anyone's career. The day after the announcement the cast and crew of the Arnaz's show follow the couple's lead and go on rehearsing for the televised live audience recording that will be performed at the end of the week. Lucielle Ball's life is intriguing in itself and there are several other current productions out at this moment that are very good about her life, one of which is Turner Classic Movies' podcast The Plot Thickens; season three- https://theplotthickens.tcm.com/ - something Movies or Cinema highly recommends.
Mr. Sorkin has done a fine job of telling three stories at once and his editor, Alan Baumgarten ("American Hustle" "Molly's Game" "The Trial of the Chicago 7") did a superb job of integrating them into the film that kept the story flowing. The main story is about what to do about the show after Lucy is labeled a communist, the next story is of how Lucy and Desi met and how these two wild personalities were able to marry and create one of the most iconic shows in television history and the final story line is how they tried to keep their marriage together through the political pressures and Desi's philandering. Each segment is absorbing and its to Mr. Sorkin's skill as a writer that he's able to keep the movie flowing seamlessly while juggling three story lines.
It's difficult to make a film about real life iconic figures such as the Arnazes as well as their television sidekicks Vivian Vance (Nina Arianda) and William Frawley (J. K. Simmons). Many decisions have to go into how you're going to approach portraying these characters on screen. Do we use make-up, prosthetics? That's an artificial decision that should help an actor get into character but the four main actors portraying this group are incredible. For a guy who watched their show weekly for, maybe, a decade or more I could not believe how spot on they all were in getting their nuances and rhythms. Mr. Simmons does not have the body of a William Frawley but his gestures and facial tics made me believe this was Mr. Frawley. Mr. Bardem, who I feel isn't just a star but belongs in the upper echelon of the greatest of actors, captured the silliness of Desi on the show and brought a depth to this character showing his passion for business and Lucy.
Ms. Kidman has the inevitable task of bringing this icon to life. She is made up in prosthetics but the final result is an odd look. At first glance she doesn't look like Lucy nor does she look like Ms. Kidman. It's discombobulating at first but once the story kicks in Ms. Kidman's character takes over and we go with it. Paired with Mr. Sorkin, they do a wonderful job of showing a woman, who in the public eye, acts zany to get a hell of a lot of laughs but also shows her talents as a director and a master of her own fate by taking control of a show that was hers.
This is a well-crafted film by Mr. Sorkin with a cast that's off the charts. You couldn't ask for a better ensemble to spit out Mr. Sorkin's dialogue. And they live up to the old stage performer's motto that, "the show must go on!" And I am glad it did.