Aaron Sorkin’s long-awaited biopic of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Being the Ricardos, is making its way to theaters and Amazon Prime this winter. In anticipation of that, the teaser trailer has arrived, and I am not feeling it. Not only does it have a flat look a la TV—and not the highly cinematic TV of now, the flat-overhead-lighting TV of before, a look Sorkin keeps repeating in the films he directs—but Javier Bardem as Desi Arnaz is doing nothing for me, maybe because Spanish =/= Latinx, and it is still deeply strange to me Sorkin & Co. didn’t bother casting an actual Latinx actor to play Latinx icon Desi Arnaz. And then there is Nicole Kidman, playing Lucy. To me, she is wrong for the part. I don’t care that she doesn’t look exactly or sound precisely like Lucille Ball, but I care a lot that she whiffs on that famous grape stomping scene.
The only time the teaser gives us a clear look at Nicole-as-Lucy is in a shot recreating the moment when Lucy steps into the vat of grapes. Kidman’s face blows wide open in an expression reading as surprise, maybe shock. But that wasn’t Lucy’s expression in that scene—one of the most famous moments in television history—it was disgust. Take a look:
Lucy is hesitant and grossed out going in, and at first contact, her mouth opens comically wide, yes, but it curves down. Her frown is huge, exaggerated, matched by the furrow of her brow and the scrunch of her eyes—revulsion. She’s not wide-eyed in surprise, she’s contracting in disgust. But there is no curve to Kidman’s expression. It’s just the wide eyes and the wide mouth, when Lucy’s face, that famously expressive comedic face, is all about contrast. The humor of that scene is watching Lucy’s expressions, how she inverts her initial disgusted expression into one of joy as her frown turns upward and her eyes open wider in delight as she begins to enjoy herself. At every stage, though, Lucy’s eyes and her mouth are doing two different things, because like the best comedic performers, she has a rubbery expressiveness that allows her to make these exaggerated faces for humorous effect. I am not at all convinced Nicole Kidman can deliver that, and frankly, hiding her face for most of the teaser only to reveal it on a discordant note isn’t building confidence.