Aaron Sorkin is a writer-director who is largely more of the former than the latter. I make this arid comment because it is of course followed up with some context. You see, when you look at the monstrous talent from a man like Aaron Sorkin you begin to ponder what projects would tempt a man like himself. There are a myriad of subjects, real or fictional, that Sorkin could put to paper on, and of all of those subjects, he chose to explore a passing blip in Hollywood history; a momentary controversy that alone struggled to make newspapers in its day. This film follows the exploits of actress Lucille Ball and her husband Desi Arnaz as they try to prevent the cancellation of their show. Now, Lucille Ball was no small-rate actress, nor was the show she starred in, but the subject matter explored in Being the Ricardos undoubtedly is.
You could call it ambition, to write about a true story, despite that story containing only trace amounts of substantial material to work from. The something from nothing philosophy feels very much at play here because Sorkin does indeed create something from a subject that is certainly very sparse. Being the Ricardos markets itself largely as a flick about Lucille Ball’s controversy when she was alleged to be a communist through the newspapers and the eventual cancellation of their TV show, I Love Lucy (1951-1957). However, this film is largely centered around the relationship between two characters, Lucille (Nicole Kidman) and her husband Desi (Javier Bardem). This film operates more as character portraits than it does a recount of events, though we are certainly treated to an intimate look into writing rooms and the goings on of studio executives; which was certainly fun to watch.
While this film does cough and churn in keeping your attention hooked to any sort of narrative string, it is held tightly together by Sorkin’s precise and unquestionably entertaining writing style, as well as the standout performance by Nicole Kidman as Lucille Ball. She manages to juggle the strength and weakness in this character with great ease, as Lucille feels as though she’s always on the edge of a cliff but keeping her composure all the same. This film, while sporting Javier Bardem, benefits even greater from the smaller cast that populate the surrounding scenes, from co-writers to supporting actors in the I Love Lucy show. They all come together to give this film more substance and body.
This being Aaron Sorkin’s third entry into the directing gig and there is still a thirst for a higher quality technical output. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think any of his films have poor cinematography or art direction, they just show flashes of some great potential. Being the Ricardos shows once again that Sorkin has these capabilities whether that is through camera movement or interesting shots that assist in character-driven moments, as he likes to keep the camera close and intimate. One of the film’s strongest assets is its ability in art direction by replicating compelling set designs and allowing the audience to be absorbed in that era of television. Embracing television’s golden age, Daniel Pemberton creates a score which plays homage to the era and the television show I Love Lucy (1951-1957). While the score is rather forgettable the use of a classical orchestra assists well in the scenes they are played throughout and is used to enhance the impact of the film’s more emotive moments.
Being the Ricardos didn’t need to follow the controversy, because the controversy held little relevance to the end result of the film. Sorkin is a better writer than a director in this situation, as he perhaps stretches his material to their absolute limits. The snappy dialogue and outstanding performance by Nicole Kidman largely make up for any insufficiencies this film has.