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being the ricardos (aaron sorkin, 2021)

Being the Ricardos invites a pro/con list, in that there are some fine parts, but the overall feeling is a bit off. Aaron Sorkin might be a little of both ... his writing is often a pleasure, his directing not so much. He can do office politics in his sleep. The truth is, my opinion about Sorkin is tied to his work in television, because I've never seen a movie he wrote, directed, or both, that I didn't like. And Sports Night was one of my favorite television shows, and yeah, West Wing was pretty good, too. But Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was mostly crap, The Newsroom was sanctimonious an often crap, and his female characters were often problematic. So I may think he never made a movie as good as Sports Night, but otherwise his movies are good, his TV series are erratic at best. Point is, I should look forward to his movies, given how much I like his past work there (The Trial of the Chicago 7, which he directed, and The Social Network, which he wrote).

I also liked the cast. There were a lot of complaints about Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem not looking like their real-life counterparts, as if that mattered (Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker didn't look like Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, yet Bonnie and Clyde was only one of the best movies of all time). The two leads are both deserving Oscar winners, top actors, and they are good here. Kidman gives us the tough side of the off-screen Lucille Ball, Bardem is a charming philanderer as Desi Arnaz, and I never wondered how another actor would have done. The supporting cast has a lot of my favorites, as well: J.K. Simmons (an Oscar winner himself), Alia Shawcat, Clark Gregg. Nina Arianda made her name on stage, and I didn't know her, but she was excellent as Vivian Vance.

All of this sounds like a great movie. So why am I hesitant to call it that? A lot of it is the film's structure. It's interesting to give us a week in the life of the stars, as they make an episode of I Love Lucy, but Sorkin seems determined to fit every famous story about Lucy and Desi into his movie, with the result being overstuffed. I don't mind the messing with real-life chronology, and Sorkin makes good use of flashbacks. But a movie that dealt more specifically with the making of the episode, and the relationship between the stars, would have been tighter. I don't think the Lucy-is-a-Commie thread was necessary, even if it was mostly true to real life.

Also, J.K. Simmons delivers, as always, but William Frawley is poorly written. In the beginning, when he is crotchety and bitchy about Vance, it rings true. But when he becomes the all-knowing veteran who helps everyone out, it doesn't ring true, at least to the character as it was first presented.

I liked Being the Ricardos, which is no surprise. I was even encouraged to watch the particular episode they are working on in the movie (it's not a great one, for what it's worth). But Sorkin still hasn't made a movie as good as Sports Night.

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