“I’m Lucille Ball – when I’m being funny, you’ll know it,” says Nicole Kidman, who plays the comic actor without so much as a wink. With her pencil-thin eyebrows, corkscrew curls and elastic mouth, Ball was known and loved for her starring role in the 1950s sitcom I Love Lucy. Kidman and writer-director Aaron Sorkin are less interested in recreating her gift for physical comedy than they are in fleshing out her serious side. Kidman has been funny before (she’s a hoot in To Die For and The Paperboy). Not so here. “I care about what works. I care about what’s funny,” she says, forehead wrinkling. Still, it’s a brilliant performance; witty, fierce and technical.
Taking place over the course of a single episode of the show, from Monday’s table read to Friday’s live audience taping, the film mostly plays out on soundstages and Hollywood backlots. We also get a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the crumbling relationship between Ball and Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem), her husband both on and off screen. Both are digitally enhanced in flashback scenes, a technique that is at once distracting and creepy.
The film is obsessed with deconstructing good screenwriting, the way a line lands, and ensuring clear character motivation. Fans of Sorkin’s own dense, rhythmic screwball dialogue will enjoy watching Alia Shawkat and Jake Lacy trade zingers in the writers’ room.
In cinemas now and on Amazon Prime Video from 21 December