They Don’t Love Nicole Kidman As Lucy

‘Being the Ricardos’ trailer causes online tempest

The new trailer for Aaron Sorkin’s upcoming biopic “Being the Ricardos” has dropped–but where’s Lucy? Many I Love Lucy fans, already skeptical of iron-cheeked Nicole Kidman playing the firecracker comedienne, wanted Debra Messing for the role. Now they might have more reason to worry: the preview conspicuously hides Kidman’s face except in a single shot. 

“Lucy” rattles off her girlboss resume in a gravelly voiceover distorted by plastic surgery and the last traces of an Australian accent: “I get paid a fortune to do exactly what I love doing… and all I have to do to keep it is kill for 36 weeks in a row– and then do it again the next year.” The movie follows a single frenetic week making an episode of I Love Lucy, as tension builds with her husband and business partner Desi Arnaz. 

For the entire 60-second teaser except once, Lucy/Kidman is backlit into oblivion, silhouetted, dashing past in profile, or twisting away from the camera. Lightning-quick distance shots flash like ghost images of Tyler Durden between visual filler to compensate for the inexplicable lack of a star: shots of crowds and meetings, weird close-ups of objects. Clack goes a film slate. Wah-waaahh goes a trombone. Click goes a lighter. 

The camera’s determination to avoid Nicole Kidman’s front-skull renders the story’s dramatic angles comic: waist-down fights, a finger poking Desi on the arm, two faceless heads meeting in a kiss, a back waving to an ecstatic audience. Lucy’s face was her brand, and fans say a trailer that plays peekaboo with it is a red flag. 

“Even the *one* shot we see is enough for me to shrug my shoulders. She doesn’t have Lucy’s expressive face,” said Twitter user LaurenAshley087. “We all know who should have been cast.” “Love Nicole Kidman but what a casting fail for the great Lucille Ball,” added another indignant fan. “Only one lady can play Lucy: Debra Messing.”

Being the Ricardos
Debra Messing in Lucy drag.

The Will & Grace star had expressed interest in the role back in January, after news broke that they were considering Kidman. Supporters compared headshots on Twitter and shared clips of Messing’s uncanny Lucy impressions (similar to Jamie Costa’s remarkable imitation of another troubled putty-faced entertainer, Robin Williams). In their view, her physical resemblance and comedy chops should have at least earned her an audition, and the faceless teaser appeared to confirm the bad call. “If ‘Tell me she looks horrible without telling me’ was a trailer,” Tweeted user 1andonlyreal1. 

But others argue that mimicry and acting are different skills, and Messing’s sitcom background is a poor choice for a heavy marquee drama. Sorkin, who worked with Kidman on Malice in 1993, writes gifted but complex characters reshaping well-worn institutions like politics, journalism and sports, and his work on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is a testament to his love and talent for writing Hollywood history. Lucy’s shrewd business sense and complicated offstage life are as integral to her persona as her red lips and elastic face, and they deserve a serious rendering. But the price for getting the Sorkin treatment is also getting Kidman, one of our most accomplished actresses.

Being the Ricardos

Spanish actor Javier Bardem is also a problematic casting choice for some Latinos, who say Sorkin passed over Cuban actors like Andy Garcia, Bobby Cannavale or Danny Pino, who played Desi in the CBS special “Lucy,” for the role. It’s ironic, given Arnaz’s success as a Cuban entrepreneur in the face of well-publicized discrimination. “I love Javier Bardem but I’m so disappointed that the first well-known Cuban person in this country is being played by Spanish guy,” said Twitter user CatherineKLind. “Bardem is an amazing actor but it trivializes the entirety of Being the Ricardos when Desi’s own Latin identity was such a huge part of I Love Lucy and its cultural legacy,” added user BMoovin. 

Is the mysterious trailer the first whiff of yet another plasticized docudrama booking big names in a cynical Oscar grab, playing to an awards season instead of an audience? Lucy’s daughter Lucie Arnaz praised the movie as “friggin’ amazing,” saying it captured her parents’ relationship faithfully; but in a world of public dragging, unpopular production decisions can sink a project on social media before it has a chance to hit screens. For a comic whose face literally made her career and is still beloved 70 years later, it’s a detail that Sorkin needs to get right. 

“Being the Ricardos” will be in theaters December 10 and Prime Video on December 21.

 

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Rachel Llewellyn

Rachel Llewellyn is a saucy media mercenary who's worked at Curve Magazine and Girlfriends Magazine in San Francisco, and ghost-edited two noir novels. She's also translated academic material, written corporate website content, taught adult school, and produced morning television news. Rachel lives in Bakersfield, California, where she hikes with her dog and pushes paper in the government sector.

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