Being The Ricardos movie review: Aaron Sorkin presents a rousing symphony on America's biggest TV show

The heart of Being The Ricardos is the partnership between Nicole Kidman's Lucille and Javier Bardem's Desi, which comes out on top after a week of intense scrutiny on screen, while also simultaneously disintegrating off it.

Tatsam Mukherjee December 21, 2021 08:02:52 IST

4/5

A film written by Aaron Sorkin doesn’t merely begin with a trickle, the floodgates open in the first scene. Think The Social Network (2010), the memorable opening inside a bar throws us right in the middle of this couple arguing about people with perfect SAT scores, people who row-crew or invent “25-dollar PCs”. But such is the rhythm of the scene that even if you’re lost in the conversation, one eventually figures out that the protagonist (played by Jesse Eisenberg) is talking about distinguishing oneself on a campus filled with the brightest minds in the country. He’s talking about getting into a final club, and when his partner (played by Rooney Mara) tries to feign support for him, he’s condescending towards her. So she breaks up with him. And thus, a match is lit for an idea that eventually becomes Facebook. It might be far from the truth, but so delicious is the banter coupled with David Fincher’s precise cutting, that it almost doesn’t matter.

There’s something similar about Sorkin’s latest venture, Being The Ricardos, one that also sees him directing his third consecutive feature after Molly’s Game (2017) and last year’s The Trial Of The Chicago 7. Set behind the scenes of one of America’s most popular sitcoms, I Love Lucy (1951-1957) the film charts the relationship between its leads, who were also a real-life couple: Lucille Ball (played by Nicole Kidman) and her Cuban-American husband, Desi Arnez (played by Javier Bardem). Known to be frothy, slapstick personalities on screen, the film follows the couple through a turbulent week, when she is accused of having ties with the Communist party (which would immediately result in her getting blacklisted).

It can certainly alienate many of us who aren’t familiar with the “McCarthy era”, or didn’t grow up hearing about the legends of Ball and Arnez on our TV screens. But like it’s true for most of the trivia in a Sorkin scene, the action finally descends on what he *actually* wants to discuss.

In Being The Ricardos, director Sorkin wants to give us a peek into the making of the biggest TV show on American TV. He insists that the process of writing mindless shows with umpteen gags of physical comedy is completely at odds with the fun nature of the show. In a way, this film is a throwback to Sorkin’s own Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip, a show that took us backstage of a Saturday Night Live-type sketch comedy show. At one point in Being The Ricardos, a writer reminisces about the nerves during that week where Lucy was acting like her life depended on whether a joke was a ‘B’ or a ‘B+’. Also, Sorkin tries to give us a picture of Ball and Arnez’s domestic situation. He argues that while the couple seemed perpetually happy playing the butt of each other’s jokes for national entertainment, they were incredibly smart and receptive to each other’s talents. Like most Sorkin couples, while they’re constantly bickering about the most inane things on one hand, and also finishing each other’s sentences when it really matters.

Being The Ricardos movie review Aaron Sorkin presents a rousing symphony on Americas biggest TV show

Kidman’s Lucille Ball has underlying darkness, where she can be seen grappling with her fame as a B-list actor turned comic relief. She’s shown to be extremely shrewd as a business person, knowing that it’s her image as a ‘dumb wife’ that is responsible for the show’s popularity. When a female writer tries to reason with her about subverting that image, she shuts her down. There’s also a scene where she insists her co-actor (played by Nina Arianda) needs to put on weight, to look like an ‘everywoman’, once she notices how she’s beginning to look as attractive (if not more) than Lucy. Javier Bardem is the true revelation of this film in the role of a beta Desi Arnez, where he dials up the charm by a factor of 10. Bardem’s timbre is put to good use, as he performs to hits like ‘Cuban Pete’ while shimmying effortlessly. It’s a superficial, punch-line role, but it’s credit to Bardem’s chops as an actor that he invests a genuine personality into Desi.

The heart of this story is this partnership between Lucille and Desi, which comes out on top after a week of intense scrutiny on-screen, while also simultaneously disintegrating off it. As the I Love Lucy showrunners are sweating thinking about the outcome of the aspersions cast on their lead actor, there’s also a story reported in a gossip magazine about Desi’s affairs. There are mentions of how Lucille dreamed of owning a ‘home’ with a family to come back to. With Lucy being the alpha on set and stories about Desi’s flings, made this a tricky relationship to navigate

Ultimately, Being The Ricardos isn’t much more than a snapshot of the legacy of two TV icons. It’s probably also a broad version of the truth, and yet it all works like a rousing symphony. As life-long fans of Sorkin dialogue will be able to attest: we CAN handle the truth, but that’s not why we’re here.

Rating: 4/5

Being The Ricardos is streaming on Amazon Prime.

Tatsam Mukherjee has been working as a film journalist since 2016. He is based out of Delhi NCR.

 

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