Being the Ricardos (2021)

Aaron Sorkin | 2hr 12min

Aaron Sorkin hasn’t been doing himself a lot of favours recently in insisting on directing his own screenplays, but for all of the structural flaws that seem to tug Being the Ricardos in multiple narrative directions at once, it is tough faulting the electric dialogue that keeps us glued to Lucille Ball’s behind-the-scenes television troubles. It snaps and crackles with the sort of energy that Sorkin specialises in, revealing an intelligent, cynical wit to the comedienne that underlies her physical slapstick abilities, further lending an acute insight into the construction of each joke that plays out on her hit sitcom, I Love Lucy. In this way, the role she takes is revealed to be much more than a performer – the Lucille that Sorkin captures here is a comedic virtuoso, possessing an instinct for setups, punchlines, staging, and character that might justify her talents as being more directorial than purely performative, much to the chagrin of her crew.

As Lucille works through gags in brainstorming sessions and table reads, Sorkin lets his film enter her mental processes via black-and-white reconstructions. Out in the “real” world we can see the poise and confidence in Nicole Kidman’s performance, but within these internal worlds she backs it up with a tangible genius, both bound together by Sorkin’s skilful intercutting.

Elsewhere, his sharp style of editing complements his crisp, loquacious dialogue, rhythmically ticking along to the pace that he is constantly challenging his cast to keep up with. We find Kidman to especially be a natural fit for Sorkin’s meticulous writing, bringing a hyper-focused attitude to Lucille’s creative nit-picking and confrontations with conservative television producers.

“I navigate male egos for a living.”

It is in Sorkin’s insistence on spreading his narrative so thinly across so many parts of Lucille’s life that Being the Ricardos begins to tear at the seams. In the lead-up to the live filming on Friday, troubles emerge on set – instability in Lucille and Desi’s relationship, a pregnancy announcement, a struggle with creative integrity, and even an FBI investigation probing into her past ties to communism, planting this story firmly within its Cold War historical context.

Had Sorkin stopped there, then he might have maintained a more present sense of urgency in his story, laying the multiple pressures of fame within a confined time frame. It is in the additional flashbacks to Lucille’s rising stardom and the flashforwards to staged interviews that the strain in his storytelling reveals itself plainly, offering little to the narrative other than distractions and bumps in the pacing.

Flawed as Sorkin’s screenplay may be, Being the Ricardos still at least holds firm to its empathetic understanding of Lucille Ball in all her struggles, from her public reputation to her most personal relationships. His writing often thrives in idealistic settings where integrity is the greatest virtue of all, and in centring this mid-century television icon whose face was broadcast weekly to screens all across America, he frames her as a woman who stands for exactly that, whether she is being questioned on her politics or pushing the creative boundaries of comedic entertainment.

Being the Ricardos is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

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