Director(s): Aaron Sorkin
Writer(s): Aaron Sorkin
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem, J.K. Simmons
I Love Lucy was, and always will be, one of the most popular shows to ever hit the small screen. Released to the airwaves of the American people post-World War II, I Love Lucy was a way of comfort after such an arduous and demanding war. Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) and Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem) were a secure on-camera and off-camera family that people could watch and feel as though everything was going to be okay. So, when it was announced that Lucille Ball might be involved with the Communist Party, during the rise of the Cold War, the American people at the time felt uneasy. So it makes perfect sense that a mid-1900s political driven drama about some of the most recognizable TV stars of all time would intrigue someone like Aaron Sorkin.
Sorkin has always been most well known for his writing – winning one of the Screenplay Oscars for The Social Network and being nominated for Moneyball, Molly’s Game, and The Trial of the Chicago 7. However, starting with Molly’s Game, he has been more inclined to stepping behind the camera as well as putting pen to paper. When it comes to Being the Ricardos, this is the first time in his career that his direction is better than his writing.
This isn’t to say his script is bad… there still are the “Sorkinisms” that have made his style of writing so popular. However when it comes to the story itself, it is mostly muddled and confusing. The script here works based on how well you know the story of I Love Lucy in front of and behind the scenes. For me, this knowledge is very little, and so there were some moments in this semi-nonlinear story that caught me off guard and caused me to forget where the story was, or made me unsure of where it was going. The “flash” and style that is usually save for his scripts, instead landed in his direction. His choices behind the camera, for the most part, worked; the intertwining with the show and what was happening in real time made for an engaging look behind and in front of the I Love Lucy camera.
While I know that my lack of knowledge regarding I Love Lucy may allow me to think less critically on Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem’s performances as Lucy and Desi respectively, that lack of knowledge allowed me to enjoy each of their commanding and engaging performances. Javier Bardem delivers some of the strongest work of his career. Bursting with charisma, and a surprisingly great voice, Bardem lives within every scene commanding not just his own respect, but that for his wife as well. However, you could see Desi’s time was running thin, and that Lucille still cared for him, even when he was unfaithful.
Nicole Kidman is an absolute powerhouse in this film. She knows what she wants, and whether it be in a scene or behind the scenes she gets what she wants. This is a showing from Kidman that we haven’t seen in quite some time, and reminds me a lot of her performance in Moulin Rouge! – my favorite of hers. There was never a moment in the film where I felt like Lucille Ball was not in full control of what was happening on screen. She didn’t have the credits, but she did the work of everyone when it came to I Love Lucy, and without her… the show crumbles.
This film truly is a fascinating one in terms of the story it is trying to tell, and the way in which Sorkin tries to tell it. It’s just never an engaging one. Without a full knowledge of I Love Lucy, or without any prior knowledge of the behind the scenes story this film is trying to tell, it is easy to get lost throughout. It’s a very well made and acted film, and there were many moments I felt myself enjoying the film. I just was never able to fully invest myself into the story in any way.
Being the Ricardos showcases Aaron Sorkin’s strongest work behind the camera, but maybe his weakest on paper. The story is hard to follow at times, and the gravity of the situations never feels fully understood or fleshed out. Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem both shine with some of their best work to date, I just wish the film itself was more focused. Because of that I never loved Lucy, I just liked her.
Jacob is a film critic and co-founder of the Music City Drive-In. He is a member of the Music City Film Critics’ Association and specializes in the awards season. You can find him on Twitter @Tberry57.