“Being the Ricardos”: I Love Lucy, but not Here

Will Teare

Director: Aaron Sorkin

Starring: Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem, J.K. Simmons, Nina Arianda with Jake Lacy and Alia Shawkat

Release Date: Dec 21, 2021

Rating: 2.5/5

Let’s have an Aaron Sorkin conversation. He is probably the most prolific and talented screenwriter in American film/TV history. Where would we be without landmark TV shows like The Newsroom and The West Wing? “You can’t handle the truth!” Ya know? One of the most famous lines in movie history? That’s A Few Good Men and was written by Aaron Sorkin. “My Prada’s at the cleaners! Along with my f— you flipflop you pretentious d——–.” That’s Aaron Sorkin on The Social Network.

He’s known for a lot of speeches, wordy scripts, and the classic Sorkin “Walk and talk.” His wit isn’t quick; it’s faster than light. The jokes and jabs characters speak hit you like a brick wall after you’ve already driven through it completely. He has this specific rhythm writer’s only dream to touch. He’s maybe the only writer in Hollywood that people will get into theaters because this man wrote it. So why have his recent works, Molly’s Game, Trial of the Chicago 7, and now Being the Ricardos been met with mediocre reviews? What did Sorkin change in his career path to end up here? As Letterboxd user “Siegel” said in his one-sentence review, “Aaron Sorkin is way too good a writer to be forced to work with such a mediocre director as Aaron Sorkin.” 

Let’s backtrack a bit and get into the synopsis. Being the Ricardos is about Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz as they traverse through one week of production for an episode of I Love Lucy. Desi and Lucille struggle through CBS’ restrictions, Lucille’s creative control over the show, her being outed as a possible communist in newspapers, and Desi’s own loyalty to her. 

The main issue with the film is that the casting of our leads is a terrible misstep. Lucille Ball is played by Nicole Kidman, which is just kind of confusing. Nicole Kidman is known for her stoicism. She’s in dramas and period pieces where she’s using her voice and being a little more subdued. Such a baffling casting choice to get her. Sure, they go for more of a “who they really are behind the scenes” type vibe in this movie. Still, you can’t just have someone who isn’t funny and doesn’t attempt to be funny play one of the most important American comics. There’s even a line with Lucille saying, “I’m Lucille Ball, if I’m being funny, you’d know it.” Kidman, although gifted, is not a physical actor and definitely shouldn’t play an actor who specialized in it. Why not Kathryn Hahn, Debra Messing, or Kristen Wiig? Those actors are far more suited to this kind of work and could hit the full range meant to be displayed. 

Kidman does an excellent job at Sorkin’s take on the character. In very Sorkin protagonist fashion, Lucille is a motor mouth, opinionated, type A, genius in her field who may lack pleasantries to, well, anyone she thinks is less intelligent or as talented as her. Although intelligent and absurdly talented, Lucille Ball is quite prickly in this movie. A very telling character moment is her telling Vivian Vance (Ariadna) to get off her diet and gain weight so Lucille can be the skinniest on the show. 

Javier Bardem is Desi Arnaz, another horribly miscast performer. First of all, I love Bardem. The man is my favorite Bond villain as Silva and got an Oscar for his role as the terrifying, brooding, and absolute psychopath Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men. He’s known for using his physicality and voice to give this aura of power and stature. And he’s playing…Desi? Before we even get to his performance, Bardem is from Spain, Desi is from Cuba. Additionally, in the film, Lucille even corrects someone and says that Desi is, in fact, Cuban and not from Spain. Serious red flag. 

Again, performance-wise, he’s just fine. He does his job, but it would be miles better if you A. got a Cuban actor and B. got someone who’s actually a showman. Desi Arnaz was a crazy triple threat; he was a natural musician, dancer, and actor. Bardem can act but can’t do the rest, or at least when he does do “Babalu,” he can’t capture Desi. And how could he? How could Kidman be a physical comic? How could Sorkin make two people who are known for being fun and not do it right?

Speaking of which, let’s dig into the screenplay. It’s fine… just fine. This is a new behind-the-scenes look at icons we know and love. It could make for an interesting story, but certainly not here. It has all the pieces of Sorkin but not at his creative peaks. To be fair, how could he? He has to write AND direct, which means he kind of has more effort and talent to spread out. Unfortunately, he spreads himself much too thin. Not only that, but he couldn’t even get the title right. Lucy and Ricky Ricardo are their names in the show, I Love Lucy. So, if this movie is about Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s personal life, then they are the “Ricardos” for not even 5 minutes…why is it called Being the Ricardos

Directorially, at least with The Trial of the Chicago 7, it seemed like he was having fun. Here, it looks so lifeless and uninvolved. I wasn’t feeling that passion he has had in the past. There’s a phrase I use for directions in movies like this, I call it, “Directorial Auto-Pilot.” This occurs when everything fun is in the script, and the director goes word by word, not deviating for a second or taking any interesting creative choice on set or in the edit. I have never seen Sorkin go this much into autopilot. Again, The Trial of the Chicago 7 at least had fun in the edit and the way we move between characters and scenes with seamless transitions. Here, I was so unaware of what he was trying to say or accomplish.

After all this, why is it still a 2.5? Well, at the very least, it’s competently put together. But saying a film is “competent” isn’t exactly a compliment. It’s, in fact, a movie that uses the camera. The actors are still professionals. They do their job, the screenplay is fine, the editing is typical, and Sorkin at least directs his actors. The movie was never actively bad or harmful, just poor execution. As a Sorkin fan, I, and many other movie fans like myself, are begging Sorkin to stop getting behind the lens and get back behind the page. Because when he’s armed with pen and paper, an idea in mind, and a director who isn’t himself, Sorkin is a master like no other.