Even the not-good one I enjoyed.
Being the Ricardos
Not exactly the obnoxiously motor-mouthed Sorkin I anticipated but certainly not the rich character study others are suggesting. Once you accept that it’s fluff it’s quite easy to get lost in its perky energy, broad performances, and stunning mediocrity.
Being the Ricardos takes place over one week working on I Love Lucy. The whole cast and crew must keep it together while emerging news articles about Lucille possibly being a communist and Desi cheating threaten to cancel the show. Being a Sorkin film, it is of course presented through the lens of the staff writers whose characters are so two-dimensional it seems like a waste. I wonder how much more intimate and revealing it could have been if told through the lens of Lucille Ball. The trailers made it seem like the movie was completely contingent on Lucy’s red scare angle, but it only appears in the beginning and end, virtually disappearing even from peripherals for the entire middle section. While I wouldn’t call any of the dialogue great, it’s certainly light and a lot less hamfisted than most of Sorkin‘s work. As a director, Sorkin is shit. I’ve never seen Molly’s Game but The Trial of the Chicago 7 was awkward and stagy. Being the Ricardos is even worse, jarringly unnatural in the way it’s blocked. Maybe Lucille should have requested to double back on that one. Lol, that’s humor for people who’ve seen the movie.
Nicole Kidman is terribly miscast as Lucille Ball, often I’d momentarily forget I was watching a movie about her. She’s been so good in everything over the last ten years up until this point. Javier Bardem is better but not by much, never rising above the level of decent work party impersonation. I’d say the best performances come from the actors playing Fred and Ethel, the always wonderful J.K. Simmons and Nina Arianda, who I don’t think I’ve seen in anything before this.
Being the Ricardos ultimately has the depth of a movie of the week but it’s never boring. Grade: C+ (Amazon Prime)
The Lost Daughter
It’s hard not to be a little disappointed with The Lost Daughter, given what an incredibly complex, powerhouse of a performance Olivia Colman delivers. She plays Leda, a middle-aged, single woman on vacation in Greece. Colman‘s entire demeanor suggests she’s an extremely internalized person, and quite unhappily so. When the loudest and most obnoxious Greek family from Queens invades her time share’s beach, she’s equal parts annoyed and intrigued, especially by Nina, a gorgeous young mother in the group played by Dakota Johnson. Initially getting off to an awkward and explosively foul-mouthed start with these insufferable New Yorkers, she ends up saving their ass in a way that makes them feel indebted to her. As a terminally shy individual, she hates this but at the same time, it gets her closer to Nina, who she sees something in. They’re both mothers and this experience causes Leda to reflect on her own stint in motherhood, mostly terrible and borderline emotionally abusive. Leda poignantly describes herself as an “unnatural mother” and you realize Nina is probably the same. But one also suspects Leda totally wants to bone Nina, a theory that while never definitively confirmed, gives some legs to why Leda is so unhappy to be the mama bear in a straight, nuclear family dynamic in flashbacks. I’m Thinking of Ending Things and Fargo Season 4‘s Jessie Buckley is also quite impressive as the flashback Leda, as is Succession‘s Dagmara Domincyzk as Nina’s older sister, the ringleader of My Big Fat Greek Trainwreck of a Miserable Family. First-time writer/director Maggie Gyllenhaal, yes that Maggie Gyllenhaal, does a fine job with this but it’s just good enough to make you wish it was better, or that the story more effortlessly traveled from scene to scene. But the real hero here is Olivia Colman, who communicates so much with so little and reminds us all that she’s arguably the best actor working in the industry. Grade: B (Netflix)
Speaking of great acting, Fran Kanz‘s (the stoner kid from Cabin in the Woods) debut film is all about that life. Mostly taking place in a moderately sized Church basement conference room, Mass centers around the awkwardly painful but completely necessary conversation that a couple (Jason Issacs, Martha Plimpton) whose child was murdered in a school shooting must have with the parents (Reed Birney, Ann Dowd) of the kid who did it. When the four of these actors are in close quarters together, basically verbally sparring with each other and desperately trying to figure out how the hell this happened and why both of their children are dead, Mass is at its absolute best. It’s the best ensemble acting I’ve seen all year and for me, it’s impossible to pick an MVP because not only are all four great, but their individual performances rely so heavily on each other’s performances. My only issue with this movie is the 30 or so minutes not set in this room – the drawn-out still shots of a ribbon hanging on a fence (evoking Matthew Shepherd) seem to go on forever and aren’t really clear what they’re adding to the proceedings that the main conversation isn’t. Also, the beginning and ending bookends of the woman who works at the church and her teenage employee go on way too long. They seem to exist to communicate how people awkwardly navigate strangers dealing with tragedy and we’d get all of that in a simple, two-minute scene. This might have been a 90-minute masterpiece, but instead, we have to settle for a 2-hour movie that’s merely very good. Also, I feel like there’s no arguing this would be more impactful as a small, black box theater production but then the whole world wouldn’t get to witness these four incredible actors spar with each other. This is about as heavy as movies get this Oscar season and might be too much for some viewers. There is never any violence shown, either physically or emotionally between these two couples, but it’s like watching people unearth and then try to re-bandage their wounds for two hours. Grade: B ($4.99 rental on Amazon)
Other recently released movies:
Don’t Look Up (Netflix)
Nightmare Alley (In Theaters)
Red Rocket (In Theaters; Streaming Soon)
Spider-Man: No Way Home (In Theaters)
The Matrix Resurrections (In Theaters and HBOMax)
The Tragedy of Macbeth (In Theaters; AppleTV January 14th)
Licorice Pizza (In Theaters)
West Side Story (In Theaters)
The Power of the Dog (Netflix)
Benedetta ($6.99 rental on Amazon)
House of Gucci (In Theaters)
C’mon C’mon ($19.99 rental on Amazon)
Home Sweet Home Alone (Disney+)
King Richard (In Theaters; $24.99 purchase on Amazon)
Ghostbusters: Afterlife (In Theaters)
The Humans (Showtime)
Belfast (In Theaters; $19.99 rental on Amazon)
Spencer ($4.99 rental on Amazon)