In many ways, “Being the Ricardos,” Aaron Sorkin’s film about Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, is a confusing undertaking. The film – which hits select theaters on December 10 and airs on Amazon Prime Video on December 21 – takes place over a week in the early 1950s, when “I Love Lucy” was hugely popular.
The story includes flashbacks to how Ball and Arnaz met, but the plot revolves around whether Ball’s brief connection to the Communist Party years earlier will turn into a major scandal at one. when the country was plagued by anti-communist sentiment.
Given that anyone who has paid any attention to pop culture over the past few decades already knows that “I Love Lucy” continued to be a major hit, and that Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz helped create the classic TV sitcom model. , there isn’t a ton of suspense in wondering if their careers haven’t been blacklisted.
With that in mind, writer-director Aaron Sorkin has to come up with something else to keep us interested. And, despite some good times, “Being the Ricardos” doesn’t quite make it. As Ball, Nicole Kidman gives a dutiful, rather joyless performance, and it’s distracting that she doesn’t look much like Lucy, nor does she look like herself. Kidman’s costars weren’t made to try and look like the actors they play, which helps Javier Bardem (as Desi), JK Simmons (as William Frawley) and Nina Arianda (as Vivian Vance) relax a bit more. in their performance.
Despite Sorkin’s efforts to draw us into Ball and Arnaz’s relationship, “Being the Ricardos” mostly stays on the surface, with its best scenes reminiscent of a workplace comedy. As the less recognizable creative team behind “I Love Lucy,” Alia Shawkat and Jake Lacy (as writers Madelyn Pugh and Bob Carroll Jr.) and Tony Hale (as writer-producer Jess Oppenheimer) are more entertaining at watch that Kidman and Bardem.
More than anything, “Being the Ricardos” is an example of the porosity of the border between films and television. Back in the days when Ball was a national sensation as Lucy Ricardo, his success was all the more impressive because, although he had worked in film since the 1930s, Ball had never really made it through as a star. major. “I Love Lucy” was the perfect role for Ball’s talents as an actor and physical comedian, and she took the opportunity to create a character that, over 50 years later, still makes us laugh. (For more on Ball’s life and career, check out Season 3 of Turner Classic Movies’ gripping documentary podcast, “The Plot Thickens.”)
Although Ball appeared in films after “I Love Lucy”, she does not remember those films, but as a TV star. The divide between films and television persisted for years, with movie stars rarely turning to television, a move generally viewed as a decline in prestige. Likewise, actors who achieved success on television were celebrated if they could make it to the movies, a feat accomplished by, to name a few, Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, Goldie Hawn, John Travolta, Tom Hanks, Sally Field, Robin Williams, Bruce Willis and Will Smith.
The cinema-TV chasm has narrowed as the media have changed. Long before the pandemic affected movie theater attendance, moviegoers were increasingly faced with fewer choices. Want to see a big budget superhero extravaganza that audiences around the world will buy tickets for? You’re lucky!
Fancy more subtle stories about complex characters and situations that don’t come down to a single sentence? This is where television came in, thanks to shows such as “The Sopranos”, “Mad Men”, “Breaking Bad” and “The Wire”.
Now, thanks to the double whammy of more streaming services and a reduced appetite for the cinema pandemic, more movies are appearing on streaming services as they open in theaters. And a growing number of stars – speaking of Tom Hanks – are making movies for streaming services.
“Being the Ricardos” is a perfect example of a project with one foot in television and another in the cinema. Aaron Sorkin has worked in theater and film and has achieved notable success on television, with shows such as “The West Wing” and “The Newsroom”. As the writer-director of last year’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” Sorkin directed another film that was released in theaters ahead of its streaming debut on Netflix.
Plus, thanks to television and shows like “Big Little Lies” and “The Undoing,” Kidman was able to play much more intriguing and layered roles than you would find in the typical super-movie epic. hero.
Perhaps it is the participation of Sorkin and Kidman – and the legendary TV creators at the center of the story – that makes “Being the Ricardos” disappointing. With more time devoted to Lucy, Desi, their relationship, and the behind-the-scenes details of making a classic TV show, “Being the Ricardos” has the makings of a juicy miniseries. Too bad the film looks like a missed opportunity.
“Being the Ricardos” opens on Friday in select theaters in the region; it will stream on Amazon Prime Video starting December 21.
– Kristi Turnquist