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Being the Ricardos

****
2021

‘…Sorkin generally uses his gift for punchy dialogue to keep the rapid-fire narrative entertaining in its own right…’

While the world seems to be spinning out of control, Hollywood seems to reach further and further back into the past for ideas and inspiration; writer and director Aaron Sorkin feels that comedy icon Lucille Ball is the most urgent subject that he could possibly address in 2021. Ball’s heyday was in the 1950’s, and that’s a world in some way removed from where we are now; nevertheless, Sorkin makes a good case for why we should spend a couple of hours looking into what made Ball tick.

Played by Nicole Kidman in an empathetic, awards-ready performance that goes far beyond imitation, Lucille Ball is a tough cookie in the world of television; after struggling as an actress, she made it big in radio, and managed to translate that into a hit television show that reached 60 million people every week. But when we join her story, Ball has problems; she’s pregnant, and the network won’t even allow the word ‘pregnant’ to be used on the programme, never mind allow her to continue in the role of Lucy; the fragile morals of America are at stake. Her husband, Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem) is also a worry; he’s been staying out late, or not coming home at all, and Lucille Ball is beginning to wonder if he’s having an affair. And then the newspapers add a final element to the perfect storm; could America’s favourite actress be a secret communist sympathiser?

Being The Ricardos is something of a steep-curve education in terms of Ball, who on this evidence was a remarkable tough-nut who faced down the kind of personal issues that would send most stars scurrying to rehab. With a gruelling schedule of shows to navigate, and meetings with supercilious tv execs, Ball has her work cut out to keep her ship afloat, and yet Sorkin and Kidman do an admirable job of showing how she carved a unique role for women in a man’s world. Contrasting the serious trials of Ball with the cartoon domesticity of Lucy is remarkable in itself, but Sorkin also plays up the creative input she had into the show’s visual comedy set-pieces, and the result is that Ball is an invigorating character to watch.

There’s been plenty of boring, worthy movies about the important subject of McCarthyism, but despite some lugubrious use of talking-head interviews to underline why this story is important now, Sorkin generally uses his gift for punchy dialogue to keep the rapid-fire narrative entertaining in its own right. He’s the kind of writer you’d love to see address the political now, rather than the fading past of Steve Jobs or the Chicago 7, yet Being the Ricardos feels like a passion project for him. That Being the Ricardos works so well as drama vindicates his choice; the wide-eyed vision of Lucille Ball makes for a highly entertaining slice of behind-the-scenes intrigue, and audiences are likely to appreciate the depth of the acerbic script and Kidman’s luminous performance.

Being the Ricardos is out now on Amazon Prime in the UK and US.

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  1. Got around to watching this last night, and I loved it. I read a ton of Hollywood actor biographies (as you know) and the thread that runs through them all is the tension between the drive to succeed in a creative yet cutthroat business and the desire for a peaceful life (here expressed as “home.”) It’s lonely at the top. One of my favorites stories, and Sorkin tells it very well here. Especially liked watching them depict Lucy’s creative process as she pictured the scenes. Had no idea of the communist accusations….I don’t know a ton about Ball, but this film makes me want to learn more.

    • Having sniped at several recent Sorkin scripts, this one felt like a labour of love, and zero-ing in on Ball’s creative process really worked for me. As with any creative enterprise, it’s hard to leave your work in the workplace, and this film really did well with Lucy’s home-life, and how her tv home reflected (or didn’t) what else was happening to her. Glad you dug it!

      • Got this info from the new book on The Godfather which is terrific as long as you haven’t read every other book on The Godfather. Also got the Brian Cox autobiography which is beautifully written and very informative about acting which most actor biographies are not. Xmas presents.

  2. Agreed. She is “far beyond imitation” with the role. That’s what hung up Jim Carrey with Man on the Moon . . . Nicole embodies the role (as she did in Bombshell) and goes beyond the surface.

    • Agreed on all counts. The bar seemed to be getting lower for awards-performances, but Kidman ticks most of the boxes here; not just an imitation, but something far more…puts her right back near the top of the Hollywood pile…

  3. Right up my alley, as you previously noted. I was going to watch last night, but fell asleep before I got started. Definitely will get to this one pronto over the holiday break. I’ve been reading the memoirs of Edna Ferber, a novelist who was writing just before the outbreak of WWII. She talk about how no one at the time was writing about the present (because it was so bad) and instead writing historical fiction. I see so much historical fiction on the bestseller lists, that I wonder if something similar isn’t going on today……this film would certainly quality.

  4. Surprised that nobody’s done a film on Ball as a female business icon. In the 1960s she ran the biggest independent television company in the world, eventually selling out for a colossal sum.

    • Ball is not someone I knew that much about, but the film does a great job of showing how she did not suffer fools gladly. The film only covers one momentous week, but it’s clear she was ahead of her time and wasn’t waiting for women’s liberation to get things done on her own terms.

    • A digitally recreated Lucille Ball, ideally. Fair play to her, Kidman absolutely rocks in this role.

    • I hope it gets better. I just remember Jeff Bridges in the Tron sequel feeling awkward. Peter Cushing looked good in the Star Wars sequel. But wow, when Princess Leia walked out: that was as ill-conceived as Jeff Bridges.

      CGI always works great for sets. I think I Am Legend looks great . . . the animals are convincing. Then those vampire thingies show up. Awful. Took me right out of the movie, as I knew Will Smith was emoting to a guy in green-screen tights.

      I’d rather hair and make-up and actor research. Bombshell is a great example of how well that works. Pasting faces onto actors . . . I am not up for that. At that point: Just put any actor into the green-suit and paste a face, on. Then you get old audio from the famous person and paste together the dialog.

      • Agreed, In a two hour film, you can get past just re-creating a person. We have to see Ball here, not just as we remember her or can see her in re-runs. We need to see the Ball that was behind the camera, and Kidman and Sorkin absulutely deliver that. I’d rather see a great performer embody a role thn see a plastic CGi creation. These things rarely provide anything other than a distraction; much as I love Rogue One, the Cushing stuff would have been better in seconds rather than minutes…

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