While the latest Aaron Sorkin piece, Being the Ricardos may wish to remember the tumultuous life of Lucille Ball (impersonated by Nicole Kidman here), it is worth remembering the finest turn for the Ball-based productions. Had Rat Race been a heavy-hitting comedy remembered beyond the year 2004 then Being the Ricardos would pale in comparison to its representation of Lucille Ball. A tour bus full of fervent mega fans is still a league above the work Nicole Kidman offers here. That isn’t her fault though. It is something to do with the man behind the camera and his stifled desires as a screenwriter which make Being the Ricardos (and, in hindsight, his works preceding it) so entrenched in mediocrity.
Throwing the great “Ball was a communist” angle right into the non-fiction, documentary-like introduction leaves little of the lifting for the caricatures at the heart of Being the Ricardos. Kidman and Javier Bardem are fine. They are keen but clumsy representations of real people. Where Sorkin has succeeded in giving life to people before, vaguely in The Trial of the Chicago 7 and, again, vaguely in Molly’s Game, he struggles with Being the Ricardos. Much of that trouble comes from the dialogue. His fast-paced, courtroom cutting perspectives are underwhelming despite the strength of this cast. J.K. Simmons leads the charge in the supporting department alongside a mini-Arrested Development reunion for Tony Hale and Alia Shawkat. The cast is strong, but the writing is unbearably dramatic and not the least bit substantial.
It shows in the most important scenes. Moments that need some tact and sensibility to them turn into spiralling arguments and yelling fits that try and proclaim the writing as something beyond sub-par. Despite the poor writing, Kidman and Bardem are on form throughout. It is reassuring to see them back at centre stage, but they fail to bring much interest to this story of controversy and communists. Every bit of dialogue is delivered with a frank benevolence that tries to signal a stunning bit of danger. It comes off as a film trying to fire interest into every corner it can, and the result of that is a mixture of totally indifferent deliveries. Clark Gregg struggles manfully with his role as Howard Wenke, just another suit in the machine that flattens out the real detail and legal drama undercutting the worries of a star.
There are a few bright sparks throughout Being the Ricardos. Moments that shine far brighter than they should. Scenes and relationships that bolster some of the supporting performances. It is hard to hate the consistency found within, even if it is a bit lacklustre. An all-star cast fails to make a strong impression in this fundamentally middle of the road feature. It neither has the time to offend with its representations of great actors nor spark much interest or engagement, for Sorkin isn’t spending all that much time with these characters. He spends more time pruning his writing, but that is a great problem when it is so spotty. Still, Being the Ricardos has all those notes of a potential awards winner. Despite that, it’ll be swept away and forgotten in a few years. That’s the best-case scenario for the flailing impersonations within.