Cert – 15, Run-time – 2 hours 11 minutes, Director – Aaron Sorkin
During the week-long production of a peak-popularity episode of I Love Lucy Lucille Ball’s (Nicole Kidman) career and personal life are thrown into spiralling worry for her and the producers after a series of potential and actual revelations.
It’s 1952. I Love Lucy is the most popular show on American TV. Nearly the whole country stops just to watch it on a Monday night. Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) is perhaps one of the most famous and influential figures in the country with her leading role in the sitcom. However, while the show appears to be at its peak – and only just setting out on its second series – we’re meant to believe that Ball is still a risky presence on set due to a series of flops and struggles in her past – her status, as an increasingly un-bankable ‘aging’ figure, seems to be, at best, “queen of the B-movies”. This is only career-wise; as writer-director Aaron Sorkin’s film covers the week-long production of an episode of the show there’s plenty more for Ball, the producers; particularly increasingly stressed head-writer Jess Oppenheimer (Tony Hale), and her husband and co-lead Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem) to worry about.
It all starts when Walter Winchell announces historic links between Ball and the Communist party – risking both the show and Ball’s career before production of a new episode can even start. The lawyers and producers are immediately on the case, brainstorming ideas of how to deal with this if anything further arises. As if this isn’t enough to deal with Lucille and Desi, who she begins to believe might be having an affair, both looking for more involvement in the show – particularly as they both begin to seek more control in terms of production – announce that they are expecting a baby, truly altering the course of the rest of the series. The way is paved for a series of beats and ideas that pop up every now and again over the rather lengthy two hour and eleven minute run-time. We experience flashbacks which act as further jumping from one point to another and then back again all to try and tell the story of the figures who played the famous Ricardo couple of TV, yet the film often leans more towards Kidman’s Lucille.
While giving a good performance it’s often distracting seeing the make-up intended to transform Kidman into Lucille Ball. There’s something almost of the uncanny valley to it, reminding you somewhat of motion capture films of years gone by. However, Kidman still manages to give an engaging performance, and so does Bardem – offering a couple of musical numbers as he performs in a club, growing the want to see him in a musical. However, the best performances of the piece perhaps lie within the supporting figures of J.K. Simmons and Nina Arianda as supporting castmates of the central pairing William Frawley and Vivian Vance respectively. We don’t see the feuds and worries that unfold through their eyes, but their certainly there to witness key events, both together and individually, and try to help out – or at times rather call out – in certain situations.
There’s almost a sense of consistency that comes from them as the film continues to jump back and forth, even in the second hour where details are expanded upon, and the film almost becomes busier with the various ideas that it has bubbling over and trying to fit into both the run-time and the week in which it takes to create and shoot an episode of I Love Lucy. It pushes the run-time and causes certain scenes to feel longer than they should be, particularly a couple which feel as if they could belong on the stage, calling back to some of Sorkin’s early theatrical work. Where scenes such as this succeed is when looking at a group response to the unfolding, and changing, events. Whether it’s the pregnancy, communism links (which drop very quickly and almost appear to be forgotten about at one point), cast demands or more that arises within the studio offices there’s a quick-paced nature to the table or desk debates. When looking at more personal, almost behind-the-scenes, elements there’s a slightly slower pace that shows the film’s bigger interest in Lucille as it moves towards her and her past rather than the chaotic week that she’s currently riding through.
In the end the film sits between biopic and retelling of events, not quite blurring the lines between the two. It certainly houses good performances which help to lift it up, especially in ensemble sequences where the dialogue bats back and forth. However, with so many strands with varying levels of detail running throughout and being referred to at different intervals there’s a lot going on in Being The Ricardos. Certainly some of it is more engaging than others, and it’s often that which happens in the confines of the early 1950s TV studio system that keep you in place and create the most fluidity amongst the rest of the time-jumping that makes up this rather mixed series of observations and retellings which have been somewhat condensed into the easily-burst confines of a week’s TV production.
There’s a lot going on in Being The Ricardos and it shows in its jumping back and forth between times and locations. The performances are good, particularly from the supporting cast, and there are interesting ensemble elements, however the quieter, more personal beats begin to fall flat as the film pushes further strands and the run-time.