Nicole Kidman’s film Lucille Ball is a welcome change from Aaron Sorkin.

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There are few places writer-director Aaron Sorkin understands better than the set, the writer’s room, and the production offices of a weekly TV series. He has written many such shows himself, at least three of them explicitly about the process of making television. In the witty and fast biopic Being the Ricardos (in theaters Fridays and streamed on Prime Video from December 21), Sorkin uses some of this insider knowledge to explore politics – global, sexual and professional – behind the scenes of the shattering 1950s sitcom I love lucy.

Most of the events mentioned in Being the Ricardos actually happened, but not on the compressed week-long timeline imagined by Sorkin, going from I love lucyThe Monday Morning Table played its Friday afternoon recording to a live studio audience. In the part of the script involving real-world politics, Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) has just been called before the House Un-American Activities Committee to explain why, 20 years ago, she checked a box on a registration form. on the electoral rolls identifying himself as a communist. Lucy later explains to her husband and co-star Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem) that she ticked the box in tribute to the left-wing grandfather who raised her from a young age, but that she didn’t never attended meetings or subscribed to any political ideology.

As a Cuban refugee whose family home was burned down by communist rebels, Arnaz is not thrilled with his wife’s declared sympathy for the working man, but he supports her as nervous CBS executives wait to see how the newspapers treat the news of Ball’s testimony. . But the tabloids are more interested in covering rumors of the Cuban-American conductor-turned-actor infidelity – rumors that he denies his wife with increasingly less plausible excuses, even though the two clearly love each other. and respect each other. and business acumen.

By the mid-1950s, Ball and Arnaz were among the most powerful people on CBS, a position Sorkin delineates early on in a few crackling boardroom scenes. When she found out she was pregnant with their second child, the couple had the unprecedented and ultimately historic idea of ​​writing her pregnancy on the show. (While this was not the first American sitcom to feature a woman’s pregnancy, it was the most important to do so.) This recognition of female biological reality has sown terror in the hearts of the top brass. network, still afraid of the approval of their corporate sponsors. After the royal couple on the small screen threatened to withdraw from their contract, the story arc was allowed to be written, on the grounds that the word dirty Pregnant never be talked about. In the meeting where this policy is hammered out, Arnaz and Ball seem both excited and amused by the blind machismo of their bosses. When asked what she means when she says she is 12 weeks old, Ball resolves the executive question with her look with long lashes and slightly wide eyes and clarifies: “Twelve weeks ago I fucked my husband. “

Nicole Kidman, who is not a performer known for her missteps and saliva catches, strangely seems to be presented as the nothing but physical actress. When news of her casting broke last year, there was a collective peek on the internet: Really, with all the talented women working in comedy right now? Apart Will and graceDebra Messing, a self-proclaimed Lucille Ball stan and the most widely proposed actress as a replacement, what about Kathryn Hahn, or Pamela Adlon, or Kristen Wiig, or hell, Joan Cusack?

But Kidman turns out, at least in the parts of the film that don’t attempt to replicate Ball’s on-air performance style, to have been an excellent choice for the role. In a performance full of dry humor – many of the script’s sharpest points are given to Ball – she captures the comedy legend’s slightly husky voice, her combination of doll-like beauty and earthy physicality, and the way imperious for which she was sometimes known behind the scenes. It is only in the few black and white scenes that reproduce moments of I love lucy Kidman’s body language seems misjudged. Perhaps in an attempt to argue that Ball’s adorably ditzy character was a… construct of patriarchy? Or something ? – she plays these moments with the curious stiffness of a puppet, as if Lucy had become a character in the commedia dell’arte. Kidman is a master at switching between emotional registers, but even she can’t crack the code to transform into something as rare as a screen-born clown.

Kidman turns out, at least in the parts of the film that don’t attempt to replicate Ball’s on-air performance style, to have been an excellent choice for the part.

Demanding perfectionist with a big ego, Ball is renowned for being hard to work with, and the film doesn’t shoot any hits on that score. Several plot threads imply that she undermines her coworkers, especially female colleagues, on the show. Vivian Vance (Nina Arianda), who played Lucy’s neighbor and sidekick, Ethel Mertz, makes no secret that she feels insulted by the show’s constant jokes about her character’s weight and unattractiveness, and she gets no sympathy from her on-screen husband and her generally drunk castmate William Frawley (JK Simmons, flaunting his usual sublime timing). The lonely and unappreciated woman in the writer’s bedroom, played by Alia Shawkat as the young lady and Linda Lavin as the eldest (now There are a beautiful casting piece), opposes the way her male counterparts try to infantilize or demean Lucy’s character, although as long as she keeps laughing, Ball herself usually doesn’t care. .

An intertwined story goes back to the time a few years earlier when Ball and Arnaz met on the set of an average RKO musical called Too many girls, embarked on a passionate affair and fled shortly thereafter. The production and costume design of this section is a marvel, and the Hollywood film portrait of the late 1940s as the film industry was being destroyed and remade by the growth of television. , is sharply sketched so too briefly. But the scenes of Desi and Lucille falling in love on various movie backlots or the dance floors of Latin nightclubs seem all too familiar, especially compared to the show business catchy repartee of the 1950s scenes.

To his credit, the previously established timeline gives Bardem a chance to strut as the star-loving Cuban band leader. He sings a few numbers, including the Arnaz band’s signature song, “Babalú,” with a fairly good tone and not a small degree of suave charm and self-mockery. I can’t speak to the issues with choosing a Spaniard to play a Cuban, but the warmth and sensuality that Bardem radiates into the mic captures part of why, as Ball wrote in his published memoir posthumously Love, Lucie, “I might as well admit here and now I fell in love with Desi wham, bang! in five minutes. There was only one thing better than looking at Desi, and that was talking to her.

Being the Ricardos is primarily interested not in the politics of Red Scare or the story of the destigmatization of pregnancy on the small screen, but in the dysfunctional work-life balance of the Arnaz-Ball marriage. Sorkin lets us see how the two support each other professionally even as, on an intimate household level, their relationship breaks down. Among the best-written scenes in the movie are those where we see Ball driving his cast and crew members crazy with his relentless perfectionism, in an apparent room to make up for his clearly flawed life at home. As I love lucy‘s beleaguered and disrespectful showrunner, Jess Oppenheimer, Tony Hale gets a role with more dramatic weight than he’s often given. It’s especially moving in a late scene where he finally confronts Ball with the years of systematic abuse he’s endured in front of his own team.

Until and not to mention a strange late twist involving longtime FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover as an incongruous Deus Ex machina, Being the Ricardos is a well-played, intelligently written, and often very funny snapshot of a pivotal time in the mid-1920se– century of political and cultural history. Sorkin will always shine more as a writer than as a director. As beautifully appointed as it is, Being the Ricardos has no real visual interest. It is filmed, perhaps appropriately for the subject, like a television show. But in the wake of a Sorkin film, The Chicago 7 trial, whose women were essentially hippie-style dressy outfits, it’s a pleasure to see him put some of his signature jokes in the mouths of female characters, especially one as sharp, complicated, and powerful as Lucille Ball.

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