Pop Culture

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
Being The Ricardos

Title: Being the Ricardos

Describe This Movie Using One Calvin and Hobbes Quote:
CALVIN: It says here that "religion is the opiate of the masses" ... what do you suppose that means?
TV: It means Karl Marx hadn't seen anything yet.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Looking at the sausage-making grape-stomping process behind one of the greatest TV comedies in history.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: 2.5 packs of delicious Chesterfields out of 5.
Tagline: n/a

Better Tagline: "What if the first woman to head a production company was also a nagging housewife?"

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Well into the second season of their wildly successful sitcom, Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) and Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem) find themselves navigating a potential smear campaign, network bureaucracy, and their own troubled marriage during one eventful week.
"Critical" Analysis: One of Hollywood's original power couples, Lucy and Desi created a historic sitcom as well as a company (Desilu Productions) that would continue to churn out TV programs well after the pair's marriage dissolved. Ball would go down as one of the greatest comedians of all time, and Arnaz pioneered techniques that revolutionized live television.

It therefore remains to be seen if writer/director Aaron Sorkin's "moment in time" approach to Being the Ricardos will be as well-received.

The movie opens with the couple arguing, then making up, as a Walter Winchell broadcast suggests Ball is a Communist (Kidman's delivery of the line, "He was *not* talking about Imogene Coca" is priceless). The rest takes place during preparations for an episode of I Love Lucy, as Ball and Arnaz (and the show's staff, and CBS execs, and sponsors) wait for the "Commie" story to hit and try to figure out how to work around (or with) Ball's pregnancy.

Sorkin also flashes back to the pair's burgeoning romance, as well as Ball's early career struggles, decisions which — while not especially distracting — are still not as puzzling as his decision to make Being the Ricardos a primer on network TV inside baseball.

Maybe he can't help himself. After all, behind-the-scenes television drama helped build Sorkin's career (Sports Night, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip) as much as sustain it (The Newsroom). But this is (ostensibly) a movie about one of the most influential couples in Hollywood history, and it still has problems separating the subject matter from the director's imprint.

So it's fortunate Kidman's Ball is a natural fit for Sorkin's rapid-fire banter. And if the subplot that features an intelligent and talented person prevailing against doubters is familiar, at least it makes some sense in this context.

There are also some hilariously painful reminders of the historic idiocy of network TV standards (they couldn't even say Ball was pregnant).

And they almost pull it off. Sorkin benefits from two talented leads in Kidman and Bardem. The latter of which looks ... nothing like Arnaz, but inhabits the role so completely you don't care. And it isn't that Kidman doesn't look much like Ball, it's that she doesn't look like anyone. Surgically removing your ability to express emotion doesn't translate well to portraying one of the hugest comedic talents of the last century.

It also doesn't help that Bardem is so expressive, or that J.K. Simmons's William Frawley steals every scene he's in, as Simmons is wont to do.

Sorkin's heart may have been in the right place in trying to bring the story of Lucy and Desi to the big screen, but he proves once again he's apparently incapable of getting out of his own way to tell it.

Being the Ricardos is in theaters today. It will begin streaming December 21 on Prime Video.
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar