Being the Ricardos, 2021.
Written and Directed by Aaron Sorkin.
Starring Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem, J.K. Simmons, Jake Lacy, Nina Arianda, Alia Shawkat, Linda Lavin, Clark Gregg, Tony Hale, Robert Pine, Ronny Cox, Nelson Franklin, Christopher Denham, John Rubinstein, Jonah Platt, Matt Cook, and Jamie Miller.
Follows Lucy and Desi as they face a crisis that could end their careers and another that could end their marriage.
At one point, the iconic sitcom I Love Lucy was reaching the homes of 60 million per week. However, to say life for the titular Ricardos outside shooting the show was peachy would be a lie, as mockumentary-style interviews opening up writer and director Aaron Sorkin’s Being the Ricardos inform that Lucille and Desi were either tearing their clothes or their heads off. Scandalous rumors of an affair with seemingly photographic evidence give Lucille cause for concern, but far more threatening to the show’s existence and livelihoods are implications that she is associated with the Communist Party, having checked off that box in the 1930s. That’s not enough drama for themselves and everyone collaborating with them on the show, as Lucille also drops the bombshell that she is pregnant, with Desi insistent that it be written into the show regardless of ABCs thoughts on bringing that dynamic to television.
The behind-the-scenes script composites these real-life events, allowing Aaron Sorkin to operate within his nailbiting tension wheelhouse where characters magnetically trade barbs while racing against the clock. In this case, ticking time is more about its passage going on without publications catching on to the communism accusations to run a smear campaign, set throughout a stressful Monday-Friday of nightmarish rehearsals for an episode that could be shut down at any second, compounded by multiple creative battles from Lucille and Desi directed at showrunners and directors.
The script is filled with Aaron Sorkin’s relentless trademark machine-gun dialogue, fired off from Nicole Kidman and Javier Barden as force of nature-level powerful show business stars with heavy pull. Toss in some sardonic material for the outstanding J.K. Simmons, portraying co-star William Frawley, an empowering turn from Alia Shawkat as an ambitious comedy screenwriter, and various other stellar supporting turns from irritated executives, and it also makes for one of the best ensembles of the year. With that said, Being the Ricardos also pleasantly sees the filmmaker flexing new creative directorial muscles, cutting in black-and-white reenacted show clips contextualizing flashbacks breaking up the chapter structure of each day.
Admittedly, some of those flashbacks interrupt the film’s propulsive momentum as personal and professional matters clash, threatening to reach a breaking point. However, Aaron Sorkin has also romanticized these flashbacks with overly vibrant color palettes suggesting a fictional sitcom (although one decidedly more focused on romance) set within a biopic based on trailblazing events breaking new television ground. Not without shortcomings, it all renders Being the Ricardos the most imaginative and structurally playful film from Aaron Sorkin to date, further allowing these incredible central performances to dazzle on-screen with layers.
Aaron Sorkin also understands that while cosmetically transformative performances capturing the appearance of an icon might serve as entertaining, a genuinely outstanding performance comes from the craft of the acting itself. Nicole Kidman might not look the part down to a science, but she’s doing something much more paramount to a performance worth praise; she understands how Lucille Ball approached physical comedy, her resolve, and her attitude. Some of the best scenes come from Lucille pushing back against an episodic director (Christopher Denham) who she feels is dumbing down the jokes too much (fascinating conversations to witness play out as Lucille applies logic to simple humor), insecurities that her co-star Vivian Vance (Nina Arianda) will transition into the more desirable one upon ballooning up from pregnancy, and remaining headstrong in her political convictions and verbal battles with Desi.
Javier Bardem is also sophisticated and charming as Being the Ricardos takes advantage of its flashbacks to show how Lucille and Desi met and fell for one another. As the sequences go on, what drove a rift between them and what I Love Lucy means to their marriage also becomes evident. Meanwhile, the present-day focus is on the hectic day-to-day scheduling, preparing, and shooting is bursting with treats for fans of the show and more than accessible enough to those taking this in as a story of fractured celebrity marriage and cautionary cancel culture commentary.
While the structuring could use a slight bit of tightening, Being the Ricardos is uproariously hilarious, viscerally entertaining, politically thoughtful, and beaming with infectiously electric performances. It will remind viewers why they fell in love with Lucy in the first place while simultaneously shining a light on her meticulous behind-the-scenes contributions and, sometimes flawed, bids for creative control. It provides a perfect balance of nostalgic fan service with enlightening substance and another top-tier script from Aaron Sorkin.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com