Early into my first watching of the film I asked my wife the simple question, “Could anyone successfully impersonate Lucille Ball?” Think about that and try to come up with personalities that might have been chosen. Lucille Ball is simply a one-of-a-kind character, and I don’t think anyone can become her. So, if what you demand is a high-fidelity rendering of the main character in this film, you are going to be disappointed — and, it appears, many viewers were. This film ranks near the bottom of this year’s Oscar-nominated films among both critics and the viewing public.
But that is an unfair expectation, because this is really an excellent movie. If you can back off the notion that this is somehow a true-life biography of Lucille Ball and her marriage to Desi Arnaz, then the movie takes on amazing power. Considered as a chronicle of an actress, her troubled marriage to a brilliant but conflicted man, all thrown together in a stewing pot of a television production and a nationwide political storm, and you have an amazing movie. That it might also provide some insight into two of America’s cultural icons is an added bonus.
The fact that this film received three acting nominations and nothing for directing or writing is puzzling. In my opinion, the strength of this film is in the script and the way the story is told. And for that the credit goes to Aaron Sorkin. His scripts The Social Network, Moneyball, The Trial of the Chicago 7, have a unique way of taking very complex subjects (like courtroom proceedings, or a gambling ring) and explaining them with rapid dialog. His characters are always deep and often conflicted people, rooted in real life, who are under intense pressures. The plot is executed more as conversations between characters than as heavy action scenes and he often mashes together scenes from different locations or times to help elaborate on a common theme.
Besides the actors not being exactly like their characters, another complaint is that Sorkin doesn’t tell the real story. I don’t know how many times I read that the events portrayed in this movie didn’t happen the way it was suggested. The movie supposedly takes place during the week Lucy and Desi were filming a particularly famous episode of I Love Lucy – the fight between the Mertz’s. There is a dated newspaper featured in the film that suggests it was the week of Sept 8–12, 1952. But it turns out that that particular episode couldn’t have been filmed that week. The three huge events that happened that week – that give the film all of its dramatic import – actually occurred in multiple other weeks and didn’t occur together at all!
For some the precise attention to biographical facts really matters – enough to thoroughly pan this movie. But I come away with a very different take. The title of the movie isn’t “A Week in the Life of the Ricardos” – it is “Being the Ricardos.” And it isn’t billed as a documentary, but rather a dramatic rendering of what these two phenomenal people were like. What Sorkin has accomplished is not a day-by-day, blow-by-blow, account of a week in the lives of these people. Rather, by combining events from multiple years and melding them together into one very complex and emotional week, we get a real sense of what was motivating these people and what made their lives move. (4 Stars)
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