At least a couple of generations of Indians know of American comedienne Lucille Ball as a result of her blockbuster sitcom I Love Lucy being broadcast on Doordarshan. In the show, which showcased her talent for physical comedy and self-deprecation, Ball played Lucy Ricardo, the wife of her real-life spouse Desi Arnaz.
Aaron Sorkin’s Being the Ricardos, about a week in the life of the power couple, puts the screws into the screwball. Nicole Kidman, with the help of make-up and prosthetics, transforms herself into Ball, while Javier Bardem plays Arnaz.
The Amazon Prime Video release is made up of three sections, all of which are set indoors: a set of fake interviews with the show’s collaborators (played by actors), flashbacks to the romance that led to marriage and a flourishing business partnership, and the couple’s attempt to deal with a series of crises.
Ball has been accused of being a Communist. She is more worried about another story, which details Arnaz’s infidelity. In addition, Ball is pregnant – about as welcome to her producers and sponsors as the announcement of World War III.
The tensions spill out at the shoot and table reads and follow Ball and Arnaz into their dressing rooms. They’re either tearing each other’s heads off or tearing each other’s clothes, an associate remarks.
Powered by committed actors and a handful of standout scenes, the 132-minute movie makes its way past a turbulent week with as much difficulty as the showbiz pioneers.
Sorkin, whose films include The Trial of Chicago 7, and who has screenplay credit on The West Wing, The Social Network and Steve Jobs, fires away the zingers, putdowns and comebacks. Among the film’s most inventive aspects are the scenes that reveal the deep involvement of Lucille Ball in her show’s iconic moments.
Nicole Kidman does an excellent job of switching registers between wacky and wise, but is bogged down by Lucille Ball’s characterisation as a brittle comedienne. The recreation of I Love Lucy’s hit scenes might indicate that scripted comedy takes a lot of hard work, but it also takes the fun out of the show.
Javier Bardem is unimpeachable as Arnaz, whose street-smart ways showcase his brilliant wife but also nudge her to the margins. The scenes from a marriage on primetime includes lovely turns by JK Simmons, Nina Ariadna and Alia Shakwat as actors and writers on I Love Lucy.
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