Javier Bardem

Being the Ricardos

11/01/22

Amazon Prime Video

I am actually old enough to remember watching I Love Lucy as a child – and can recall laughing out loud at the onscreen antics – though a quick glance at Wikipedia tells me that the show only launched in the year of my birth and ended in 1957, so I was probably already viewing re-runs. It was a game changer in many regards, the first scripted TV show to be filmed in front of a live audience using a (then) unique three-camera system. At the peak of its powers, it pulled in sixty million viewers.

Being the Ricardos is a fascinating look at the husband and wife duo on which the series was loosely based, as they approach a major flashpoint in their joint career. Midway through recording their second series, Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) and Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem) are hit by potential disaster. Ball has been investigated (and cleared) by the House Un-American Activities Committee, but the newspapers are now accusing her of being a communist. Also, she has just discovered she is pregnant with her second child and there’s no way her sponsors are going to allow a visibly pregnant woman onto the television screens, because viewers are going to start thinking about how she got pregnant in the first place and – well, not to put too fine a point upon it, her husband is Cuban…

I know. You could be forgiven for thinking that the series actually originated in the middle ages, but no, in the 1950s, such mundane revelations could stop a series dead in its tracks. So it’s going to take some nifty dance moves to get Lucy and Desi out of this one.

Writer/director Aaron Sorkin adopts a multi-faceted approach to telling his story, introducing it via a series of interviews with the show’s original writers and producer (all played by actors) and then cutting gleefully back and forth between Ball And Arnaz’s first meeting; their early experiences in radio, film and music; the recreation of the recording of a live show and all points in between.

We learn fairly quickly that Ball is an inveterate micro-manager, who trusts nobody’s instincts as much as her own, and that Arnaz is an astute businessman with an eye for self-preservation and a yen for booze, card games and female company. We also meet the duo’s regular co-stars, William Frawley (JK Simmons) and Vivian Vance (Nina Arianda), whose careers are inextricably entwined with those of their employers, and who are not slow to express their dissatisfaction with the way they’re expected to play second fiddle. There’s also an appealing rivalry between the show’s two main writers, Madelyn Pugh (Alia Shawkat) and Bob Carroll (Jake Lacy).

The script positively crackles with witty putdowns and snarky one-liners and Kidman’s performance (which has already been rewarded with a Golden Globe) is extraordinary, nailing Ball’s look, voice and presence in seemingly effortless fashion. Mind you, the cast are uniformly good and the era convincingly evoked. As the story switches expertly back and forth, no scene is allowed to outstay its welcome.

So much more than just another biopic, Being the Ricardos sneaked quietly straight onto Amazon Prime in the UK, but, with a strong Oscar buzz behind it, expect to hear a lot more about it in the days to come.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

mother!

 

17/08/17

Darren Aronofsky is always an interesting filmmaker, but he can be inconsistent. Requiem For a Dream is, in my opinion, a morose and devastating masterpiece, while The Fountain is clumsy and ineffectual. Black Swan definitely goes onto the ‘good Darren’ pile, while Noah is… er… probably best slipped under the carpet. mother! has polarised audiences like no other film in recent history. I find myself fascinated by the plethora of reports on social media from disgruntled punters claiming that it is the worst film they have ever suffered through – people so incensed they seem to be on the verge of stringing up the cinema staff for daring to show such guff.

Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) lives in an octagonal house in the middle of nowhere, with ‘Him’ (Javier Bardem), a celebrated poet, currently suffering from a terrible case of writer’s block. We learn fairly quickly, that the house has, at some unspecified point in time, suffered a devastating fire and Mother is single-handedly attempting to return it to its former glory. While she mucks in with the paintbrushes and wood filler, her poet husband sits around and broods. But then the doorbell rings and we are introduced to ‘Man’ (Ed Harris), a creepy fellow with a consumptive cough, who claims to be a doctor. Mother is instantly suspicious of him, but the poet welcomes him in with open arms and invites him to stay. It isn’t long before Man’s surly wife (Michelle Pheiffer) turns up and starts to treat the house like her personal property, smoking cigarettes indoors and snogging her hubby at every opportunity. But the strange visitations don’t end there. Soon, the house looks like the worst Airbnb invasion in history, with people arriving in droves… and then Mother discovers she is pregnant…

Aronofsky’s camera seems to be caught up in a major infatuation with Lawrence. When it’s not looking her straight in the eye, it’s peering voyeuristically over her shoulder, and following her from room to room, as though it can’t bear to be parted from her. I love the fact that the film takes off at a sprint and barely pauses for breath, as event piles upon event and the whole thing careers headlong into madness.

Look, I appreciate that this won’t be for everyone – but neither do I buy the story that it’s some kind of an insult to the intelligence. In look and tone, the film it most resembles is Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby – it inhabits a similar world of paranoid speculation, Mother constantly aware of things going on behind her back, against her wishes, but unable to assert her authority. It’s an allegory, for sure, but one that drags in so many potential allusions that you can literally discuss it for hours. There’s the spectre of fame and what that can do to relationships: the way that some men feed off their partners in order to fuel their creativity. There are biblical references, observations about immigration and the way people selfishly protect their own space. And of course, there’s the subject of birth and what that does to a woman, how much it demands of her and what determination it takes to see it through to fruition.

Maybe what ultimately turns so many viewers off is the fact that all these references are there and all of them are relevant. Perhaps most people prefer to have things cut and dried – to identify exactly what the filmmaker is saying in a movie and then walk away feeling pleased with themselves. But there’s a lot to be said for allowing people to arrive at their own interpretation of what the film is actually about. Everybody will have a different view, and it’s no bad thing. In my opinion, when sorting out Aronofsky’s films, I genuinely feel this one belongs on the ‘good Darren’ pile – and that the term ‘Marmite Movie’ was probably never more apt than it is here.

One thing’s for sure. Watching this, there’s one thing you definitely won’t be. Bored.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney