Being the Ricardos (2021) ☆☆☆(3/4): Their one challenging week

Aaron Sorkin’s latest film “Being the Ricardos”, which was released on Amazon Prime in last week, works best whenever the characters pull and push each other in their verbal interactions. While it cannot possibly recreate the larger-than-life charm and presence of two legendary American TV stars in the story, the movie is mostly entertaining thanks to Sorkin’s sharp writing and the skillful line delivery of his main cast members, and that is more than enough to compensate for its several weak aspects.

The movie focuses on one rather challenging week of Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) and her husband Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem) in 1952. At that time, Ball and her husband were quite popular for their monumental TV sitcom series “I Love Lucy”, but there came a little trouble when Ball was suddenly suspected of being a communist not long after investigated by the House of Un-American Committee (HUAC). Ball actually did not have much problem compared to many other unfortunate people whose lives were ruined by HUAC, but her whole career could have been considerably damaged, and Sorkin’s screenplay gives us a loosely fictional presentation of how Ball coped with several other matters in her personal/professional life besides that at that time.

At first, the movie shows us Ball and her cast and crew members preparing for another new episode to be shot and then broadcast a few days later. Because it is no secret among them that she was recently investigated by HUAC, everyone around her cannot help but become nervous, but Ball does not give a damn about that because there is nothing of which she is ashamed, and she and her husband lead the script reading as usual.

On the surface, Ball and her husband look like excellent professional partners besides being a model married couple, but there is actually a growing problem in their private life. A local gossip newspaper recently published an article suggesting Arnaz’s infidelity, and, as a wife who knows her charming husband too well, Ball comes to suspect her husband more than before, though he keeps denying while emphasizing that he was not with some girl on a certain day.

Anyway, Arnaz is still a valuable professional partner for his wife in more than one aspect. Besides being a flawless match for Ball’s comic skill and timing, he also diligently takes care of a number of business matters for them and their beloved TV sitcom series, and this particular set of skills of his are certainly useful when he tries to calm down those TV company executives and sponsors behind “I Love Lucy”, who are understandably concerned about whether “I Love Lucy” will be far less popular due to those growing rumors about Ball being a communist.

And then it turns out that there is also the other problem. Ball has actually been in the early period of pregnancy, and Arnaz is willing to incorporate this significant change in their private life into their TV sitcom show, but the TV company executives and sponsors wince and then balk for a good reason. After all, it is the 1950s, and not only sex but also pregnancy was a taboo on American TV at that time. Nevertheless, Arnaz is quite willing to push the boundary a bit, and so is Ball.

Meanwhile, Ball has several other things to deal with. As constantly paying lots of attention to those numerous comic moments to be handled by her and her cast members, she often comes to clash with her director and writers, and there is also some considerable tension between her and Vivian Vance (Nina Arianda), who has played another comic couple in “I Love Lucy” along with William Frawley (J.K. Simmons). Later in the story, she and Vance come to have a real honest conversation about anxiety and rivalry, and that is one of more interesting moments in the film.

All these backstage drama stuffs are alternated with a series of flashback scenes showing how Ball and Arnaz’s earlier years in the 1940s. While she was just a stock actress working in RKO Pictures, Arnaz, who was already a popular entertainer at that time, was instantly attracted to Ball not long after their first encounter, and they soon came to live happily together as a married couple, though they soon found how it was difficult for them to balance themselves between love and career.

I must point out that this part is rather redundant, but it is at least buoyed by the natural charisma of its two good lead performers. Nicole Kidman’s plucky acting ably rises above the level of mere mimicry, and she is also complemented well by Javier Bardem’s suave performance, which shows us that he can be funny and likable in contrast to his various cases of drama acting ranging from “The Sea Inside” (2004) to “No Country for Old Men” (2007). In case of several other notable actors, Nina Arianda steals the show along with J.K. Simmons, and Tony Hale, Alia Shawkat, and Jake Lacy are also solid in their respective supporting roles.

On the whole, “Being the Ricardos” is relatively lightweight to compared to Sorkin’s previous works such as “The Trial of the Chicago 7” (2020), and it is often hampered by some unnecessary parts including those fake interview scenes in the film, but it is still engaging enough on the whole. Yes, this is another your average Oscar season movie of this year, but I had a fairly good time with it, so I will not grumble for now.

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