A movie about one of America’s funniest television shows should be funny, at least a little. Lucille Ball is a beloved national treasure and audiences aren’t ready to see her portrayed as sullen and vindictive.
“Being the Ricardos” is not a biopic of the title characters nor a behind the scenes “making of” their famous show. It is an interesting commentary on the McCarthyism and misogyny of the time, but it also highlights the misogyny of today, in that there is no effort to temper either Nicole Kidman’s hard portrayal of Ms. Ball or the look into the “I Love Lucy” studio as anything other than dower and dismal.
“Ricardos” is a film about the worst week in the Desilu marriage and their production company and there’s nothing funny about it, other than the fact that Kidman apparently thinks being Lucille Ball just means opening her eyes as wide as possible.
On that subject, when the actors portraying Fred and Ethel started speaking, I actually had to look for name tags before I could tell who they were and don’t get me started on Javier Bardem as Desi Arnaz (typically a bad guy as in “No Country For Old Men” and “Skyfall” or occasionally sexy as in “Eat, Pray, Love” and “Vicky, Christina, Barcelona,” but never cute and funny like Ricky Ricardo).
I found all this pantomiming distracting, as opposed to the distracting and deficient makeup approach used to make actors look like those they portray in other current films like “The Eyes of Tammy Faye.”
In this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week in their lives, Desi and Lucy are fighting with each other about his poorly hidden infidelities and with their studio and sponsors over both the accusation that Lucy is a Communist and that she is going to have a baby and wants to incorporate the pregnancy into the storyline of the show (something that had never been done before).
Fred (apparently a hopeless drunk) and Ethel are constantly at each other’s throats, the writers and women on set are pitted against each other for recognition, and Ball regularly goes out of her way to insult, degrade and undermine her coworkers, all the while emasculating her husband by micromanaging or commandeering his job as executive producer of the show. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?
Generous flashbacks to the Desilu courtship provide some tender moments, but otherwise, we’re just left with a bunch of unlikable characters in a movie that is about as far from a comedy as you can get.
Even as we observe the creative process on how a joke evolves over the week and finally becomes funny, no one on the set ever smiles, let alone laughs. There is a subplot that posits Ball may only ever wanted to have a happy home life, not the fame or recognition she so brutally pursues in the film and has to constantly be saved by lesser souls like Desi, Fred and the show’s producer, but I don’t buy it.
The acting is as good as you might expect, with Nina Arianda and Alia Shawkat in particular, as Ethel and the only female writer on the show respectively, are outstanding and the only characters who reveal themselves as true feminists in the film.
Director Aaron Sorkin is more successful when he sticks to writing alone (“Moneyball”, “West Wing,” “A Few Good Men”) rather than when he tries to also breathe life into his stories and characters himself, like “Trial of the Chicago 7” and ”Molly’s Game,” as he has done with “Being the Ricardos.”
This is closer to an Oliver Stone film in its looseness with the “facts” and total disregard for adored moments and people in history. The film makes us wonder, was Lucy a comic genius and show mastermind or was she a bitter, washed up also-ran to the likes of Bette Davis? In contrast, Desi is painted as 100% likeable, despite his well-known philandering ways.
Add “Being the Ricardos” to the 2021 list of shame for taking a cherished female icon and turning her intelligence, talent and work ethic against her in one of the most misogynistic films of the year that depicts her as a harping shrew and the deeply flawed men around her as downtrodden male saviors.
Simonie Wilson, whose love of movies began as a child in the ’70s going to drive-ins with her family, has been a resident of the Northland for more than a decade. She is a board member of the Kansas City Film Critics Circle and a Women Film Critics Circle member. She can be reached online at www.facebook.com/RedVineReviewer.