What is the story about?
The film looks at the week leading up to the production of the final episode of the hit 1950s American television sitcom I Love Lucy, and the complex dynamics between its stars, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.
Making a comedy is hard. Behind all the jokes and the applause, there lies hidden a great deal of hard work. Watching the first half of Aaron Sorkin's Being The Ricardos is a tremendous learning experience. Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz created, produced and starred in the smash-hit sitcom I Love Lucy, which ruled American airwaves throughout the 1950s, and Sorkin's screenplay takes us deep into the mechanics of how an episode of a sitcome is supposed to be staged in front of a live studio audience. But Sorkin is more interested in the dynamics between Lucille and Desi, and how their marriage and professional lives were inextricably interlinked.
Part of the reason the 132-minute film feels too exhausting at times is because of the sheer number of subplots. Allegations of Lucille being a Communist and Desi being a serial philanderer are lapped up by newspapers over the course of the week leading up the taping of the final episode of their show, "Lucy Meets The Mustache". The writing staff, the co-actors and the network executives are all on edge, hoping the episode gets taped against all odds. Above all, there's Lucille and Desi's crumbling marriage, where Sorkin takes us into various flashbacks of how the pair came to be. It would have been better--and more prudent--if Sorkin had just chosen to make all of it into a miniseries rather than a standalone film. He stuffs his screenplay with so much detail that the various crises in the film feels exhausting after a point. The film works best when Lucille and Desi's lives and marriage are explored, but the flashbacks, when combined with the "will-they-won't-they" dynamics of the taping in the present, add to a strange sense of weariness. Nevertheless, the trademark Sorkin repartees are there in the flavourful dialogues, and the protagonists somehow carry this unwieldy film through. You just wish it was a better film, though.
Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem carry this film through. Kidman is so scarily unpredictable and brusque as Lucille that she always leaves everyone guessing where her real-life persona ends and her "actress" persona kicks in. Bardem is suave and charming as Desi, but there are moments when he feels tired and exhausted from all the pretensions, and he wants to let down his guard but cannot. J.K. Simmons and Nina Arianda play William Frawley and Vivian Vance, the supporting cast on I Love Lucy, and they are more assured in their off-set interaction tahn in their on-set ones. Tony Hale is superb as the perpetually-harried executive producer Jess Oppenheimer, while Alia Shawkat is solid as one of the show's writers, Madelyn.
Music & Other Departments
Daniel Pemberton's score is apt and langourous. Jeff Cronenworth's camerawork is good, especially in the sequences where he has to transition between off-set conversations and Lucille's black-and-white reimaginings of scenes in the taping.
The performances and the detailed production design are the major highlights.
So many sub-plots are stuffed into the screenplay. It would have been better if this film were a two-episode or three-episode miniseries.
Did I enjoy it?
I found it enjoyable in parts, but I kept wishing the screenplay left some room for the characters to breathe.
Do I recommend it?
You can watch this once just for the performances.