Being the Ricardos isn’t a bad movie. It’s just not really a good one. At two hours, I felt this movie could’ve been trimmed a lot. Aaron Sorkin wrote and directed it. But I feel that he didn’t know what to take out and what to leave in.
The plot mostly revolves one week as Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) is worried that a Walter Winchell radio show has implicated her in being a Communist. This is in 1953 when the House Un-American Activities Committee was still very active. And yes, Ball was questioned but she was cleared. She explains what happened was her grandfather, who helped raised her, was a union and workers’ rights supporter so she check the box when she was younger in support of him. Her husband, Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem), tells the staff of the show that it was a common mistake as Ball checked the wrong box which upsets her.
There’s also problems in their marriage as a Confidential publication has Arnaz with a younger women. He denies it stating the photo was cropped from an event they attended many months before to make it look like he was with her alone. At the same time, Ball informs CBS officials and the I Love Lucy sponsor Philip Morris that she is pregnant with her second child and wants to incorporate that into the show. So, while they’re dealing with allegations of his affairs, the possibility of the show ended if Ball is blacklisted, they also deal with how they are going to handle a woman getting pregnant on one of the most popular TV shows.
It’s a little too much for Arnaz and Ball as well as the audience. We get flashbacks to how Arnaz and Ball met as well as Ball’s film career hitting a snag after he is released from her contract at RKO Pictures because she’s too old. Except, Ball wasn’t. That’s one of many problems with this movie. After appearing in The Big Street in 1942, when she was really only 31, an RKO official says she’s 39. Maybe it’s becaue Kidman is 55 and she would’ve looked like 39 instead of 31.
Thankfully, Sorkin doesn’t recreate many of the popular episodes. We only see a few minor snippets, such as the scene where Lucy had to stomp the grapes and another one in which Ricky appeared behind her putting his hands over her eyes asking, “Guess who?” as she rattled off many names. This also upset Ball because the likelihood Lucy wouldn’t be able to hear someone coming in the door nor not recognize her husband’s vice she doesn’t find plausible.
Since Sorkin focuses more on the background drama, it gets bogged down in a lot of dialogue. And I mean a lot of dialogue. There’s something about Sorkin’s works, the dialogue seems too structured. There’s no spontaniety to it. You don’t feel like it’s the first time these characters spoke these lines. And it’s not like the actors don’t try. Kidman and Bardem do what they can with the roles, but they’re both miscast.
J.K. Simmons, along with Bardem and Kidman, received acting Oscar nominations, but aside from one scene, Simmons’ role as William Frawley comes off as a grouchy old man. It’s known that he and Vivian Vance (Nina Arianda) never really got along much, but they reportedly despised each other. Later Frawley tried to ruin her chances of getting other roles after I Love Lucy ended. Maybe something happened later in the show’s run, but here they just come off as two actors who didn’t get along.
And that’s a common thing with this movie. Jess Oppenheimer (Tony Hale changing it up in a dramatic role) is the executive producer/showrunner and he doesn’t feel Arnaz deserves the same credit. Madelyn Pugh (Alia Shawkat) is one of the writers and she doesn’t feel she’s given the credit she deserves. Ball and Vance argue about Vance’s crazy weight-loss diet. Oppenheimer battles with Ball and Arnaz over trying to control the show while dealing with the brass at CBS and Philip Morris.
This is the same structure that’s been in just about every behind the scenes plot of every fictional or based on a true story movie or series that’s been made in the past 50 years. Putting together a hit TV show isn’t an easy job. But a lot of people with “regular jobs” have to deal with a lot of drama. There are hints that during the 1950s, white men didn’t want to have to deal with a woman celebrity or a woman TV writer who made them a lot of money even though they felt she belonged in the kitchen. They definitely didn’t want to see a Cuban making some big decisions. But these issues are just briefly mentioned and it’s over.
If you’re a fan of Ball and Arnaz, you probably won’t like this. And I admit there’s something about Kidman’s face that just doesn’t look right when she’s got the make-up on. There was controversy over Bardem being cast since he’s from Spain even though Arnaz’s children didn’t have any problems.
Ball actually was a powerhorse behind the scenes in many more ways. Trekkies are forever indebted to her as she put her foot down on the orginal Star Trek series and didn’t budge an inch. There’s also a great story of how she produced the movie All the Right Moves and helped out a town in Appalachia hard hit by the economy. This is only one small chapter in her life. While it isn’t a huge biopic, Ball deserved better. Yes, she may have made a few enemies but she is one of the pioneers of American TV.
What do you think? Please comment.