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"BEING THE RICARDOS"
(2021) (Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A married couple must contend with various big distractions while preparing to shoot the latest episode of their 1950s era hit TV sitcom.
PLOT:

It's the second season of "I Love Lucy" and the show's four stars -- Lucille Ball (NICOLE KIDMAN), Desi Arnaz (JAVIER BARDEM), William Frawley (J.K. SIMMONS), and Vivian Vance (NINA ARIANDA) -- are rehearsing for the shooting of their next episode with executive producer Jess Oppenheimer (TONY HALE) and head writers Madelyn Pugh (ALIA SHAWKAT) and Bob Carroll (JAKE LACY) there to incorporate any changes.

But three issues threaten to mess up the schedule. One is a gossip columnist reporting that there's marital discord between Lucy and Desi, while another is reporting that Lucy is a communist. The third is that Lucy is pregnant and she and Desi want to incorporate that into the show, something that horrifies Jess and pretty much everyone else since they know it will never fly with the studio or the show's corporate sponsor.

As the week wears on, all involved try to resolve those issues so that they can finalize and shoot the episode.

OUR TAKE: 8 out of 10

There's the old saying that you should never meet your heroes. Whoever first said that -- and all of those who've repeated it since then -- likely realized that idolizing someone is fraught with potential and likely disappointment upon seeing the warts and all of them being human like the rest of us.

While I don't view anyone in Hollywood as a hero -- at least in terms of simply being a person involved in making movies or TV shows -- it's eye-opening meeting some of them in person. Although most are guarded in their interaction with others, sometimes you'll catch one on a bad day.

And others you'll catch in the act of simply being mean people when they think no one will notice, as occurred at an award show with my wife and a very famous power couple in the movie world. Needless to say, my wife and I, along with everyone who's heard the story, have a vastly different view of those two than most of the rest of the world (that is, beyond those who've likely experienced something similar).

I actually learned this at a young age when I saw an interview with Lucille Ball on TV in the 1970s or early '80s. Rather than the fun and funny woman I enjoyed watching as a kid on the old sitcom "I Love Lucy," I was suddenly faced with an older, crusty, and cantankerous woman, all raspy-voiced and chain smoking and seemingly the epitome of a far too human sort you'd be wise not to cross.

Thus, and all these years later, when I heard that Aaron Sorkin was helming a movie he wrote about Lucy, her then-husband Desi Arnez, and a tumultuous time in their lives during the second season of their mega successful show, I was all-in for what I hoped would be an explanation about the real woman behind the scenes.

With award-worthy performances by Nicole Kidman as Lucy (yes you read that right), Javier Bardem as Desi, and J.K. Simmons stealing every scene as William Frawley (who played Fred Mertz in the show), a terrific script (natch) by Sorkin, and good direction and production details all around, the result is an engaging behind the scenes look at an earlier power couple in Hollywood and a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week in their lives.

After the film begins with some contemporary on-camera interviews featuring older versions of three characters -- who are played by Tony Hale, Alia Shawkat, and Jake Lacy in the main part of the film -- talking about that moment in time, we're whisked back to 1952 and the days leading up to the Friday shoot, beginning with Monday where Lucy is facing two sensational tabloid stories.

The first one, that doesn't seem to worry her much despite the efforts of the House Un-American Activities Committee to smoke out communists and communist sympathizers leading to the feared "Hollywood blacklist" is gossip columnist Walter Winchell's proclamation that Lucy's hair isn't the only red thing about her. Far more concerning are other reports that Desi was caught cheating on her, and with him spending many an evening on his boat rather than returning home to her, she's concerned that story might be true.

Oh, and there's the little surprise that she's pregnant, something that throws the show's executive producer (Hale), studio folks and sponsor reps for a loop in terms of shooting the rest of the season's episodes. They're then sent through a loop de loop when Lucy states she wants her character also to be pregnant on the show, which pretty much gives everyone a serious case of "the vapors."

What follows is how all that plays out from Monday through Friday, with the behind-the-scenes moments showing that Lucy was far from what we saw on TV. Throw in various flashbacks leading up to her appearing in the sitcom as well as her forward-imagining scenes as written or conceived, and the result is an interesting and engaging offering if you're into TV shows of old, the making of them, and the times in which that occurred.

While neither Kidman or Bardem are dead ringers for their famous counterparts, they're more than close enough in terms of looks and speech patterns and their performances are indeed Oscar worthy. As is the case with Simmons who nails his part at least in terms of how I envision Frawley was in real-life, which also holds true for Nina Arianda as Vivian Vance, with their characters' on-screen bickering carrying over into real life or vice versa.

Through Sorkin's efforts I can see how my first views of Ball eventually morphed into the later TV interview type, what with life and her own behavior hardening her into a "tough old broad" like they used to say. And in this case, I didn't mind peeking behind the curtains to meet or at least see how these people might have been in real life. I thoroughly enjoyed "Being the Ricardos" and think it's one of the best films of the year. It rates as an 8 out of 10.




Reviewed December 10, 2021 / Posted December 17, 2021


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