Saturday 8 January 2022

Movie Review: Being The Ricardos (2021)

A biographical drama, Being The Ricardos is a behind-the-scenes look at a television celebrity couple at their peak.

In 1952, the I Love Lucy sit-com is the top-rated television show. Over one week, the show's husband-and-wife star team of Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) and Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem) navigate a series of challenges as the cast and crew prepare for Friday's taping of the latest episode in front of a live audience.

The newspapers are full of stories about Desi's infidelities. A radio show suggests Lucy is a communist. The couple reveal Lucy is pregnant, shocking executive producer Jess Oppenheimer (Tony Hale), the network, and the sponsors. Meanwhile, co-stars Vivian Vance (Nina Arianda) and William "Bill" Frawley (J.K. Simmons) add to the problems. Vivian resents being portrayed as frumpy, and Bill's caustic attitude causes aggravation. 

As the week progresses, Desi insists the pregnancy will be weaved into future episodes instead of being hidden, while Lucy assesses the state of her marriage and works with writers Madelyn (Alia Shawkat) and Bob (Jake Lacy) to perfect the latest episode as the taping deadline approaches.

Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, Being The Ricardos is handsomely mounted and well-acted, but also clumsily bites off more than it can chew. Enough material to occupy several movies is crammed into the events of a single week, with a predictable and vaguely unsatisfying outcome of quantity over quality and superficial treatment of all issues.

In addition to the dramas about the communist accusations, infidelity, Lucy's pregnancy, and bickering co-stars, Sorkin crowds-in a barely-baked conversation about the feminism generational divide, an unconvincing side-trip to Desi's bruised ego as defined by others, flashbacks to the couple's courtship and early days of marriage, black and white recreations of completed episode scenes, and look-backs by older versions of the characters unnecessarily commenting on events. Unsurprisingly the running time extends to a wholly unwarranted 131 minutes, the narrative pointing in multiple directions but barely progressing on any. 

On the domestic front, the one emergent unifying theme is Lucy's personal ambition to find a home of contentment, the show's stage set the closest thing to her sanctuary and the one place she can spend time with Desi before he escapes to palling around with his buddies. The film also offers revealing glimpses into the joint creative process required to pull together 22 minutes of quality comedy every week, Lucy's dedicated attention to detail and her exacting standards never wavering despite all the turmoil.

Sorkin favours a smoky beige-yellow palette to recreate a bygone era, and stars Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem comfortably step into the early 1950s milieu. But they are forced to frequently shift emotional gears to keep up with competing contexts, often in the same scene. Despite enticing moments, Being The Ricardos is a bottleneck of ideas.

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