Aaron Sorkin’s ‘Being the Ricardos’ Has Got Some ‘Splaining to Do About Javier Bardem

When I first saw that Javier Bardem had been cast as Desi Arnaz in Aaron Sorkin Being the ricardosI growled. When I heard Bardem’s “Cuban” accent in the trailer (for the couple of words he said), I had to laugh. And when I finally saw it in the movie, I felt late grandfatherFavorite chorus echoing deep in my soul: That awful!

Being the ricardos explore the behind-the-scenes reality of I love lucy during one of its most tumultuous periods, when Lucille Ball found herself under investigation as a possible communist. The film delves into some of the tensions that sustained the show throughout its run, including Ball’s relentless suspicion of her husband’s infidelity and the alleged tensions between Ball and Vivian Vance, who played Ethel Mertz.

As interested as Being the ricardos seems to express how difficult it was to be Lucy, yet he is much less interested in his other half. The stunning redhead Nicole Kidman might insist that her husband “is no one’s second banana,” but you wouldn’t know it from the movie itself., which doubles largely as a Ball biopic and is wrong to lip service about Arnaz’s talents for capturing them on screen. Sorkin, you have some explanations to do.

Being the ricardos‘The missteps in portraying Arnaz wouldn’t feel so egregious if the film didn’t seem so conceited for pointing out the discrimination he faced while alive. A frequent complaint about Sorkin’s work may be the self-satisfaction of his dialogue, and there is a lot to find here. But casting a Spaniard to play a Cuban in a movie that literally features a scene about how the two identities are not interchangeable could actually constitute a previously unexplored level of gringo shit.

Towards the end, we watch a flashback in which Kidman instructs a roomful of studio executives on her husband’s credentials to play her husband on television. (Initially they wanted Richard Denning, who played her husband on the radio show that became I love Lucy; Ball insisted they chose Desi so the couple could spend more time together.) When one of the men tells Lucy that she, a totally American girl, cannot be with a “Spanish” man, she corrects him.

“Desi Arnaz is a man of phenomenal talent,” says Lucy. “Not just a world-class musician, but a very good actor who would be a movie star, if there were a Cuban movie star.”

Just like in an earlier scene where Lucy teases a room full of stuffed suits for having no idea of ​​the pregnancy that they didn’t know the right words to ask how far along she was, the moment feels designed to highlight Lucy so much. as to the moral superiority of the film. on the conditions of the time. It’s hard to get excited about lines like that while watching Bardem, who is already a questionable choice for the role, playing his character without specificity.

Bardem’s casting has been controversial from the start. Hollywood has a well-established history of hiring Spanish actors to play characters from the countries the Spanish colonized, which wouldn’t be such a big deal if it weren’t just one piece of the broader system of exclusion that this movie intends. examine. But beyond the philosophical reasons why Bardem didn’t have to play Arnaz, there’s also the fact that he looks, sounds, and moves in nothing like him.

It’s not that Being the ricardos I should have released a Desi clone. Despite all the Twitter sarcasm that erupted when Nicole Kidman’s casting was broken for the first time, she taps into the wry and mischievous energy that made Ball a joy to watch both on screen and off. But Bardem seems to have no idea what made Arnaz so attractive, and even if he does, the script provides little opportunity to explore that question anyway.

It’s not just that Bardem can’t mimic a Cuban accent to save his life. (He can’t.) Or that his voice is too husky, too relaxed. (It is.) Or that he never realizes how to move his body like Arnaz. (It doesn’t). The problem is the whole package: an actor reeling in a role he was never qualified to play, because despite the great speeches about the value of diversity that come out at the awards each year, most of the Hollywood luminaries They can still not tell the difference between a Javier Bardem and a Desi Arnaz.

That vague understanding of Arnaz, both the person and the interpreter, Being the ricardos‘exploration of Lucy and Desi as a couple. Sorkin struggles more with intimate moments and offers little insight into the couple’s relationship when they weren’t playing Lucy and Ricky. Was your connection to real life intellectual, sexual, emotional? How did they view their professional struggles in relation to others, and did that generate resentment? The film seems only nominally interested in these questions.

But casting a Spaniard to play a Cuban in a movie that literally features a scene about how the two identities are not interchangeable could actually constitute a previously unexplored level of gringo shit.

Instead, Sorkin focuses on the tension between Lucy and Desi over the dreaded subject of the “second banana.” Both were ambitious and both saw their careers limited by their white male dominated industry. But while viewers spend a lot of time observing Lucy’s genius at work, from her ability to lock scenes in her head to her curt comments about men about her, Desi’s talent as a businessman never lands with such a shock. (Partly because the negotiations with studio directors are less than fascinating, and partly because Bardem plays them without joy.) Bardem’s musical performances fall equally flat; Everyone in those scenes, especially the trumpeters, needed to increase the energy several levels.

Perhaps the biggest sin of all: We never see Bardem playing Desi playing Ricky in a substantial way. From Being the ricardos, it could be assumed that Desi Arnaz was not a great performer at all. If it were, why not include even a moment of that, say, one of the numerous scenes where various characters argue over whether or not Lucy may be pregnant on screen? Never mind that Arnaz was, himself, a masterful physical comedian whose googly-eyed expressions are as unforgettable as Ball’s. (At least for so long I love lucy fan who had a crush on him as a child).

Sorkin clearly knows that Arnaz was a talent in his own right. In one scene, Kidman offers proof that her husband isn’t anyone’s No. 2: In addition to basically running the show from behind the scenes, he says, “He’s killing at the table reading,” while she tells him. It takes days to laugh. If only we could see what that looks like.

One could argue that essentially as a Lucille Ball biopic, it’s unrealistic to expect Sorkin’s movie to ruminate for too long on her husband. But the issue isn’t so much about screen time as it is getting it right. It’s hard to imagine how Sorkin can explore Being the ricardos not understanding what it really was to be Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.


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