Being the Ricardos lingers longer than it should for a behind-the-scenes biopic on the most popular sitcom.
Being the Ricardos (2021) Review By Mark McPherson
Published on December 15, 2021
Rating 3 /5
Aaron Sorkin’s take on the behind-the-scenes drama of I Love Lucy is loaded with robust dialogue. It’s also a mess of his direction, dashing between its nonlinear reenactments and staged interviews as cluttered chaos of a biopic. With questionable editing and staging, Being the Ricardos feels more like a patchwork of a fascinating biography diced up into decent chunks.
Most of the story takes place over the course of a week, where Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) and Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem) find themselves clashing with the writers. Lucille questions the validity of her character and her silliness while Desi mostly smiles and agrees with her. She’s got to be forceful when trying to force her way into comedy television. As the flashbacks reveal, her career was thought to be over after she seemingly became too old for movies. Relegated to radio, she would soon make the jump to television but on her own terms.
Amid Lucille’s concern for the staging of her characters, there’s the looming threat of McCarthyism. Her national allegiance is called into question as scandals break out in the press about her political leanings. She attempts to get ahead of the controversy but will have to do so while dealing with a script she fights for, executives she topples, and an affair that she can’t shake with her husband. There’s a lot of mounting pressure on this comedic actress who wants to remain in control of a show where every force seems to be against her.
Stressing the gravity of the filming are interviews with older versions of those who were present on set. These interviews are not exactly woven into the story well. It’s not like American Splendor where wise words from the real-life figures provided some bonus commentary and context. Instead, it feels like watching a reenactment and then having someone involved chime in with an “oh, oh, I know THIS part” every few scenes. These breaks in the drama are so frequent and without much transition that it makes one question why this film can’t decide if it wants to be a documentary or docudrama.
The performances are at least a lot of fun. Kidman and Bardem may not have the exact look and voices of the legendary TV duo but they do make the performances their own. Kidman brings great determination to the role of Lucy at her most vicious. Bardem has immaculate exuberance for the high-spirited actor and singer. Consider J. K. Simmons in the role of actor William Frawley. Simmons doesn’t have the perfect look for Frawley but it’s hard not to be one over with how he brings that gruff voice to such a role. Nina Arianda also brings a lot of dimension to the conflicted actor Vivian Vance, unsure of how she wants to appear on the small screen. Tony Hale and Alia Shawkat also bring some comedic charm to their stammering behind the scenes.
Sorkin definitely has a style that comes across amid the clutter. Some of his best choices in direction find Lucille running scenes through her head, picturing in black-and-white how her character would appear. The questions keep forming in her head about whether or not this is something Lucy would do in the show. Would Lucy be fooled by Ricky sneaking up behind her? Would she cut up flowers in a comical manner? How would she set up a dinner with her neighbors in a way that seems physically comedic? All of these questions swirl and force her to speak up quickly considering executives want to control her performance and make sure the show doesn’t address pregnancy.
Being the Ricardos lingers longer than it should for a behind-the-scenes biopic on the most popular sitcom. So much time is spent on the mechanics of shooting the show and its cultural impact than ever landing on a more personal story. The aspects of Lucille’s family and home life are present but so distant in the background they feel like afterthoughts. Sorkin can still write some strong dialogue but his direction still leaves a lot to be desired.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.