Always the most cunning and captivating wordsmith, Oscar winner Aaron Sorkin grows increasingly sure-handed behind the director’s chair with each new project he takes on.
Much like his writing, Sorkin becomes more daring as his confidence grows in his third feature film released last week in theaters and on Amazon Prime reflects both his drive and ambition to make prestige cinematic drama.
Being the Ricardos is a quintessential Sorkin project filled with high-octane, rapid fire dialogue, intensely dry humor and an a stage play mentality that creates an alluring two hours for cinephiles to sink their teeth into.
This isn’t to say that the film is accessible to all audiences or will resonate with casual moviegoers. Sorkin takes a lot of liberties consolidating two years worth of real life drama in the lives of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz into one week’s worth of events surrounding the taping of an episode of their hit television show “I Love Lucy.”
A radio broadcast accuses Lucille of being a Communist and a tabloid profiles Desi as a serial cheater all while the couple are announcing their second pregnancy to the show’s staff. It’s a cavalcade of events that Sorkin orchestrates with a deft pen and often compelling directorial eye.
Yet, Sorkin’s script feels more authentic if you consider the entire project a more fictionalized account that just happens to be based on real people rather than an honest work of nonfiction.
He litters his screenplay with fictionalized retrospective interviews, often jumbling the timeline of events to fit a mood rather than provide clarity to the audience.
The star of Being the Ricardos isn’t Lucille and Desi, nor A-listers Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem who capably play both the real people as well as the “I Love Lucy” characters. It’s Sorkin, the guy waving his wand like a feverish maestro making a performance of his band leadership. There’s never a moment in the film that doesn’t have the good and bad of Sorkin’s growing auteurism stamped all over it.
It’s honestly too bad at times because Kidman is especially offering a compelling turn as Lucille and her ability to demonstrate both the unique physicality that Lucille had to set her apart as a comedienne and the deep thinking that helped shape the show and the people around her.
Kidman carries the film on her shoulders for much of the 135-minute run time and wonderfully rallies viewers to Lucille’s side with charm and becomes an ideal focal point for all the chaos that surrounds her. It’s a truly engaging look at the inner monologue of one of America’s first true television icons and while Kidman often doesn’t “look” the part, her ability to become Lucille and to a lesser extent, Lucy, is considerable and powerful.
Bardem, by contrast, doesn’t give a character driven performance as Desi as Sorkin isn’t truly interested in finding Desi’s motivations.
But Bardem brings charisma and machismo in spades and the turn is filled with a bravado that lights up the energy of the film at the drop of the hat. Desi’s scenes are always the most compelling because Bardem’s larger-than-life persona radiates off the screen and his chemistry with Kidman perfectly captures the hot and cold unevenness of Desi and Lucille’s marriage.
The ensemble cast all give excellent turns as well with Nina Arianda’s Vivian Vance aka Ethel Merman and Tony Hale’s executive producer Jess Oppenheimer being standouts.
The film’s considerable production design pays off in a big way as viewers will easily feel themselves transported to 1950s Hollywood and its classical glitz and glamour. Cinematography from Jeff Cronenweth only adds to the luxurious feel while also offering a sense of smoky haze pouring in during long office scenes.
Likely Amazon’s premiere contender for accolades this awards season, Being the Ricardos will probably fall short of expectations with only Kidman a probable Oscar nominee in Best Actress. Sorkin is always a threat for a screenplay nomination and films about Hollywood traditionally over-perform with Academy voters.
Being the Ricardos is a bold statement from Sorkin that will leave some viewers behind as he tries to be audacious as a dialogue driven filmmaker. But with the ease of access seeing the film on Amazon Prime, the mostly true story of the people behind Lucy and Ricky Ricardo is worth taking a chance on.