Being the Ricardos is perhaps the most purely enjoyable theatrical release (via Amazon) I’ve seen in a while.
The film shows the beloved showbiz power couple of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz (aka TV’s Ricardos, for those (amazingly) not in the know as they navigate a particularly eventful filming week, including possible infidelity by husband Desi, finding ways to get Lucy’s pregnancy into the scripts, and revelations of Lucy’s past membership in the Communist party. (To viewers of a certain generation, including myself, these actors/characters are so familiar and beloved, that one can’t help but discuss them on a first name basis). The narrative also intersperses flashbacks to their courtship and pivotal moments (as in Lucy’s bid for serious movie stardom). The film compresses events (which is forgivable) but gets a few things plain wrong—as in the alleged rivalry between Lucy and “movie star” Judy Holliday in the 1940s—at a time when Holliday had barely made a name for herself on the nightclub circuit, let alone Hollywood.
However, the film gets so much right, namely the characterizations and relationships among the four actors central to the success of I Love Lucy: namely Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman), Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem), Vivian Vance (Nina Arianda, and William Frawley (J.K. Simmons). While one may quibble with the resemblance (and comic chops), Kidman gets across the essence of Lucille Ball. She convinces as the proud, confident, knowledgeable actress/comedienne; an all-business de-facto producer/director; and a loving spouse wounded by the prospect of her husband’s infidelity. Likewise, Bardem is superb as the equally confident, protective, and all-too-flawed Desi. And both J.K. Simmons and Nina Ariadna are perfection as Fred and Ethel (I mean, Vivian Vance and William Frawley). Frawley and Vance may have disliked each other in real life, but both Simmons and Arianda communicate both the actors’ sheer professionalism and a sense of compassion that one can only hope the actors possessed in real life. Ariadna’s scene with Kidman, in which Vivian questions Lucy as to whether Lucy was behind a sumptuous breakfast that was delivered (together with ulterior motives) is one highlight; another is Simmons’ Frawley quietly advising Lucy about Latin men—and manhood. If the film is a little long…well, they’re trying to cover a lot of ground. And for the most part, the filmmakers succeed.
Don’t Look Up was conceived before Covid became a public health (and political) hot topic and filmed during the pandemic (which sadly persists), but one could have sworn the filmmakers saw this threat coming.
(I believe the original metaphor had to with climate change and those who believe, and disbelieve.) In a nutshell, scientists Leonardo DiCaprio (appealingly rumpled) and Jennifer Lawrence stop an asteroid heading for Earth; naturally they try to make this knowledge known to the world via TV and the Presidency, and for about ten minutes they succeed—until political and business interests interfere (personified by President Meryl Streep, sycophantic and moronic son/adviser Jonah Hill, and multi-billionaire Mark Rylance). Of course, the world becomes split between those who believe in the asteroid’s potential and those who think there’ll be no harm done. There are some good moments, courtesy of stars DiCaprio, Lawrence and Streep (Hill is also convincingly obnoxious), some good supporting turns, notably Tyler Perry and Cate Blanchett as what seem to be the only gainfully employed news commentators. However, the satire is a little obvious and the film more than a bit padded, and after one hour and thirty minutes, you’ll wish for some sort of satisfactory resolution—whatever that happens to be.
Death to 2021
If you’re looking for some genuine laughs, I want to direct you to a pair of documentaries that are both hilarious and informative. Death to 2021 (on Netflix) provides a witty, funny and perceptive recap to the signature events of 2021, beginning with the January 6 insurrection. Aided by “talking heads” including Hugh Grant’s pompous academic, Tracey Ullman’s conservative commentator, and Lucy Liu’s news correspondent, much of the humor is on-target and both funny and disturbing.
The other is HBOMax’s The Adventures of Super Bob Einstein, recounting the life and career of the late actor/comedian Bob Einstein, who first achieved fame as Officer Judy on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and later gained a following as the super-confident (albeit hapless) daredevil Super Dave Osborne. Recently Einstein appeared (to good effect) as Larry David’s friendly nemesis Marty Funkhauser on Curb Your Enthusiasm. The numerous clips are riotous, and the commentators (including Steve Martin, Einstein’s brother Albert Brooks, David Letterman) are engaging and perceptive. These two films are well worth your time. Enjoy.