Being The Ricardos Review: A Decent Show But Never A Showstopper

Being The Ricardos Review: A Decent Show But Never A Showstopper

Rating: 3/5

There’s always a concise distinction between truly great films and truly terrible ones. Brilliant films often flourish and awful ones flounder but arguably, there’s a kind of varied enjoyment to be derived from both such features; one can mindlessly revel in terrible guilty pleasure films, while also relishing the joy of viewing extraordinary films. Regrettably, Being The Ricardos (2021), the latest feature both helmed and penned by Aaron Sorkin (of The Social Network and The Trial of Chicago 7 fame), finds itself ensnared in the worst possible cinematic trap: a mediocre feature with too little to amuse, entertain or even admire. 

Chronicling the outrageously popular television series, I Love Lucy(1951), Being The Ricardos traces the lives of the show’s incredibly charismatic leads, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. For those of you who are unacquainted with the chart-busting series, I Love Lucy was a colossal television success, with one prominent episode even garnering as many as 44 million viewers. When the show aired each Monday, the streets were rumored to be alarmingly uninhabited, both employers and employees swiftly vacated their workplaces, and nearly 75% of American households with a TV tuned in to view the show.

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The primary question that arises is what made a simplistic sitcom such an implausibly large triumph? I Love Lucy initially gained traction, given the gleeful antics and shenanigans of its protagonists.  It promptly rose to the top spot on television for its smart quips and nifty humor. Shooting on a 35 mm film also lent the show an upper hand as opposed to the grainy and lower clarity of the other shows of its time. The very notion of exploring the offscreen, controversy-riddled lives of Lucille and Desi against the sweeping backdrop of the most astonishing and influential show of its time, bears enough incentive for any screenwriter to transcribe such a legacy for the silver screen. 

It’s unfortunate that Sorkin’s film is never as earth-shattering, or even as remotely captivating as the show it’s meant to chronicle. There have been frequent jests about how Aaron Sorkin’s supreme writing is habitually underscored and sabotaged by Sorkin’s own flimsy filmmaking style.  As he makes further additions to his gleaming director's cap, Being The Ricardos points to a larger and recurring setback with Sorkin-directed features. The writing is rousing and enthralling, as is expected of Sorkin, but it’s also his scattershot and flavorless filmmaking abilities that threaten total collapse for an otherwise earnestly crafted film.

Being The Ricardos Review: A Decent Show But Never A Showstopper
Nicole Kidman and Javir Bardem in Being The Ricardos 
(Credit: Amazon Prime Video)

A significant obstruction that ties down Being The Ricardos is the bizarre narrative structure. Rapidly oscillating from pivotal moments in Lucille and Desi’s lives, Sorkin is certainly aboard the ship, but far too perplexed as to how he must steer a vessel of such magnitude. Drifting from the critical accusations of communism targeted at Lucille, to Desi’s rampant infidelity, the film clumsily attempts to encapsulate the mechanics of the television industry while also examining the sensational success behind I Love Lucy. It’s an obscene amount of narrative ground for any film to tread, much less one helmed by a director as tame and trite as Sorkin. And that’s ultimately the undoing of the film itself.  Sorkin, the first-rate writer, is continually undermined by Sorkin, the third-rate director.

A critical element for any writer is to procure a reliable outsider’s perspective on their work. David Fincher became this outsider once for Sorkin, during their collaboration on the groundbreaking biopic, The Social Network (2010). Fincher reportedly refused to trim down any portion of Sorkin’s impeccable screenplay, although there were occasional changes sprinkled throughout. The point being, that Sorkin gleaned insight from Fincher on the intent, delivery, and the weight of the dialogues, and with some minute changes, produced the revolutionary founding tale of Facebook. 

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Fincher constructed an immaculate feature with an electrifying soundtrack, seamless performances and elevated Sorkin’s screenplay to dizzying heights. But Sorkin’s instincts, in the glaring absence of such a virtuoso filmmaker, seem terribly misplaced here. Sorkin seems perpetually unsure of what needs to be cut and what is essential for Being The Ricardos. The result is a tedious misfire that only barely scratches the surface of Lucille and Desi’s lives. Sure, it isn’t entirely devoid of credibility.  It does a decent job of familiarizing newcomers and fans of the show alike, with the alluring Lucille Ball and the ever-charismatic Desi Arnaz. However, what Being The Ricardos sorely lacks is a soul to infuse life to its proceedings.

Courtesy of the phenomenal Jeff Cronenweth, the film does exhibit ritzy jazz bars, glamorous parties, and the dimly lit but ever-bustling backrooms of a television sound stage. The writing remains sharp, snappy, and ever-so-witty, but it’s Sorkin’s prosaic, conventional direction that never truly allows the film to take flight. Although not excessive, the two-hour runtime certainly weighs heavy on an average viewer as the film crawls at a laborious pace. Diving right into Lucille’s overblown Communist controversy at the beginning, the film abruptly swerves timelines, transporting us to Lucille and Desi’s first meeting before shifting full-throttle to Lucille’s relentless obsession with a particular joke in one of the episodes.

It’s this confounding swinging of tone and structure that eventually diminishes all goodwill the film set out to accomplish. Sorkin remains an unparalleled writer with a penchant for swift and sharp-tongued dialogues. It’s a shame that his pedestrian ability as a filmmaker is what derails such an ambitious film. Sorkin has penned the lines, sure, but he’s painfully oblivious as to the exact process of translating a script to screen. The screenplay indeed amuses and compels, but it could’ve crackled and burst with an energetic rhythm in the presence of a finer director. Biopics like these always fall in the brittle category of films that are made or broken by the sheer competence of the screenwriter and the filmmaker. 

It’s unfortunate that Sorkin envisions himself as an exemplary figure in both these worlds; he may be an incredible writer, but a director he most certainly isn’t. Similarly, Being The Ricardos is a well-written, ambitious feature, but a great film it most certainly isn’t.

Watch the trailer here

Being The Ricardos is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video. 

Author Biographical Note: The author is currently pursuing a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Jai Hind College, Mumbai. He is currently working for Explore Screen: The Cognitive Dialogue in the capacity of an intern. 

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