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Elite acting aside, Aaron Sorkin's 'Being the Ricardos' is easier to admire than love

Here, it's what the actors do with the writing that pushes this up one higher, more so than his words and direction leading the way.

ST. LOUIS — "We have been through worse than this." 

"We have?"

"No."

Every serving of glamor is beset by the behind the scenes drama that the audience doesn't get to see. In Aaron Sorkin's "Being the Ricardos," the moviegoer is given full access to the end of one of television's greatest onscreen/offscreen personalities. Most of it is interesting.

Played remarkably by Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz encounter the crisis of a lifetime near the end of their respective careers. A skeleton from each of their closets comes out to play, forcing their hit series to be thrown into jeopardy, with a cast and crew wondering what happened. Even back in a day and age decades before the vigor of social media, it wasn't easy for television stars to escape a mistake or two back then.

Sorkin's script, which covers one tumultuous week in the filming of an episode of "I Love Lucy," features the usual Tommy Gun-styled rapid fire dialogue with a couple layers of sophistication. I've often thought that learning and memorizing it was one thing, but to deliver it must be an entirely different mountain to climb. From the writer's room to behind the stage to the home of Lucille and Desi, the camera rarely stops moving and the mouths don't stop dispensing long-winded rants and knee-snapping one liners.

The cast handles the speed like pros. Forget what you've heard about Kidman's work in the trailer. Sometimes people can get caught up in the look of an actress playing a real person, and forget about everything else. While makeup and camera angles do give you the vivid impression of Kidman stepping into her shoes, the actress carries the close-up, dialogue-driven work. It's an impressive performance.

Bardem one-ups her work as Desi. The actor may look little like the real guy--but he sings, dances a little, and gives off that endless masculinity that audiences felt with Desi. The latest reminder that an actor's eyes can be one of his most useful weapons on screen.

However, J.K. Simmons and Nina Arianda one-up Bardem and Kidman in brilliantly-calibrated supporting roles. In a Sorkin tale, the 9th lead can get a page of dialogue at least but out of all the esteemed cast members, it's these two that I wanted more time with.

As easy as it is to admire the work of the two leads, Arianda's Vivian Vance and Simmons' William Frawley carry more chemistry and trade zingers that are nearly as hot. Supporting actors in the movie playing supporting actors on the show, they generate that amicable-yet-still-nasty competitiveness that could fill many sets. A late confessional scene of sorts could be Arianda's award reel.

Does "Being the Ricardos" create cinematic magic? It's more fleeting than usual in a Sorkin film. After a slow start and a slightly-meandering middle act, the climax does deliver a level of crescendo that will pull the crowd in. The resolution helps the rest of the movie settle into place and feel like a cohesive piece of work. As Lucille and Desi are hit with a smear campaign and a potentially deadly yet separate threat, the viewer moves from person to person wondering who is clean and who is not.

By the time the film came to a close, I admired what I saw and adored some of it. Technically flawless-the costume and production design are next level-there was a detached personality to Sorkin's script that kept the film from hitting harder at times. Here, it's what the actors do with the writing that pushes this up one higher, more so than his words and direction leading the way.

While there's real Oscar flair to "Being the Ricardos," it's not the usual amount for an Aaron Sorkin production. For non "I Love Lucy" diehards, let's call this a pretty decent, yet not outright great, time at the movies.

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