Review – You Got Some ‘Splaining To Do (“Being The Ricardos”)

There isn’t a person alive who doesn’t know certain icons: Mickey Mouse, Coca-Cola, and the I Love Lucy TV show of the 1950’s. The brainchild of actress Lucille Ball, this early television show would define sitcoms as we know them today. 

It’s 1952 and the I Love Lucy show is going like gangbusters on the CBS-TV network, thanks to the combined business savvy of Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem) and the shrewd comedy sense and pre-viz of actress, Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman). It’s Season One, and after 20 terrific episodes, #21 is having problems. Writers Madelyn Pugh (Alia Shawkat) & Bob Carroll, Jr (Jake Lacy), along with showrunner & creator Jess Oppenheimer (Tony Hale), are facing another troubling table read. It’s not that co-stars Vivian Vance (Nina Arinada) and cantankerous William Frawley (J.K. Simmons) are bickering. . . again, it’s the sudden, unexpected, and shocking news that Lucille Ball has been labeled a communist!

Remember, this is during the infamous McCarthy hearings where Hollywood was put under a microscope, and Ball was no exception, even though her name was cleared. However, evidence has surfaced to the contrary and now everyone is on edge. Add to this the news that Lucy is pregnant and Jess is doubtful if their show sponsors, the powerful Phillip Morris tobacco company, will continue their support if they show a knocked-up Lucy on the air! Oh, and one more thing: Desi’s infidelity and womanizing is being paraded in the tabloids as well! Sheesh! What a week!

While all of these plates are spinning in the air, we are witness to the days leading up to the show’s live studio audience taping and Lucy overly obsessing over some minor comedic details involving a dinner scene and a flower vase. This, plus the fact she can’t stand that week’s guest director, Donald Glass (Christopher Denham), whose authority she keeps usurping. As the days push on, we also see (in flashbacks) how Lucy & Desi met at RKO Studios, which is quite fascinating. Tensions are high, arguments occur everywhere, and some are wondering if this #1 rated TV show will be its last.

Written & directed by my hero Aaron Sorkin (Trial of the Chicago 7, Molly’s Game), this is yet another example of Sorkin and his mastery of the English language. Whether or not any of this actually happened or how much of this story is fictionalized, who can say? I’ve read and seen enough Lucille Ball bios to know that much of what I saw was factual, including Lucy’s meticulous attention to detail, making sure Vance wasn’t more popular than her, and how Frawley was drunk most of the time. Even though you know how the story comes out, it’s still a nail-biter with Lucy living with the possibility of her career ending.

As much as this movie is an exquisite slice into the making of a comedy show, its players, and the inner workings and background griping that goes on, you can’t get away from the more glaring obstacle: the two leads. Personally, I felt that Debra Messing (TV’s Will & Grace) would’ve made a better-looking and sounding Lucy. Kidman as Lucille Ball just didn’t work for me, as she doesn’t quite embody the red-headed comedic superstar in voice or looks. Bardem fared a little better as he sounds like Desi with his heavy Cuban accent, but he’s way too tall and looked nothing like him. If you want great casting, look no further than Arinada & Simmons, who looked and acted like their counterparts, especially Simmons, who stole every scene he’s in.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that Kidman and Bardem both gave excellent performances in speaking those whip-smart and eloquent Sorkin lines, but they’re no Jim Carrey in Man on the Moon or Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody, where the actors disappeared into their characters by looking & sounding just like them. Sorkin can write and direct, there’s no doubt about that, but I think he should leave the casting to others.

**Now showing in theaters in limited release; on Amazon Prime starting Dec. 21st

Mommie Dearest (1981)

Without a doubt, one of the fiercest actresses in Hollywood back in the 1930’s and 40’s was Joan Crawford. Like her arch-nemesis and rival Bette Davis, Joan was a formidable actor, took no prisoners, was thoroughly independent & empowered to the max with a severe case of OCD.

In this bizarre bio-pic, based on Christina Crawford’s controversial autobiography of the same name, we start with Joan (the incredible Faye Dunaway) in her element; working at MGM Studios, getting up at 4am with a regiment of scrubbing her face and arms with soap and boiling water before plunging her face into a bowl of witch hazel & ice. Yikes! When Helga (Alice Nunn) the maid thinks Joan’s living room is spotless, Joan finds a minor detail she overlooked and loses her temper. Yes, Joan is not only a control-freak, but has cleanliness issues as well. Sadly, Joan longs for a child, being in a relationship with Hollywood lawyer, Gregg Savitt (Steve Forrest).

Despite wanting a baby, she cannot get pregnant, so she adopts a little girl, Christina (Mara Boyd), and later, a boy, Christopher (Jeremy Scott Reinbolt). Overcome with “motherly love”, Joan lavishes eight-year-old Christina with attention and luxuries like an extravagant birthday party, but also enforces a strict code of denial and discipline. When Christina rebels against her mother, confrontations ensue; it’s a constant battle of wills & temperments. Example: When Joan overtakes Christina in a swimming pool race, she laughs at her. Later, when Joan discovers Christina wearing her makeup and imitating her, she takes offense and cruelly cuts off chunks of Christina’s hair to humiliate her. Then there’s in the infamous, “No wire hangers, EVER!!” scene that has since become a meem.

Oh, but it doesn’t stop there! As Joan’s star rises in Tinsel Town with her movie career and Oscar wins, Christina is sent off to the exclusive Chadwick School, but is brought back home after a few years following an incident. After a magazine article that paints a teenage Christine (Diana Scarwid) in a bad light, the two get into a nasty catfight, resulting in the movie’s most unintentionally funniest scene: Christine calling out her mom, who then tackles her daughter to the ground, choking her. Joan then packs up sends Christina to another private school and Joan marries the CEO of Pepsi Cola, Alfred Steele (Harry Goz). After his death, the Pepsi board tries to force her to resign, but Joan blackmails them into letting her retain her seat by threatening to publicly condemn Pepsi! This is one badass woman! Even MGM head Louis B. Mayer (Howard DaSilva) was afraid of her!

In an act of defiance and a final ‘screw-you’ to her children, when Joan died of cancer in 1977, both Christina and Christopher learned their mother disinherited them both in her will. Geez, Louise! Although the screenplay adaptation was by Robert Getchell, Tracy Hotchne, Frank Perry, and Frank Yablans and was meant to be a serious look at the life & times of one of the great Hollywood women in the business, it ultimately turned out to be a box office disaster, thanks largely to the complete over-the-top acting of Dunaway, who later regretted ever having done this role, as it “ruined my career and took an emotional toll on me”. 

Even though the movie failed miserably in the theaters, it evolved later into a huge cult following, on par with the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Midnight shows started popping up all over town with people dressed up as wild Joan Crawford’s, waving wire hangers and bringing cleaning supplies, and shouting lines back at the screen! Truly this was not the intention of the filmmakers but, hey, you can’t argue with more money for this film, right?! 

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