Welcome to 2022. Let’s catch up on some of the buzziest movies that were released over the holidays, many of which, perhaps as a sign of the times, were grim, even when trying to be funny.
First, I was thoroughly prepared to hate Aaron Sorkin’s Being the Ricardos, distributed by Amazon, because of the deeply questionable casting of Nicole Kidman as Lucille Ball. Nicole Kidman has proven herself an incredibly talented dramatic actress, but she does tend to have a hard time maintaining an American accent and does not perhaps have the plasticity to her features that Lucy did. Fortunately, Sorkin’s take on Lucille Ball (Kidman) and Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem) focuses on a dramatic week in which Lucy is accused of being a communist, suspects Desi of infidelity, and announces her pregnancy to the writers and producers of I Love Lucy. Given how little of the time she actually needs to be funny, Nicole Kidman far exceeded my expectations in her portrayal of Ball, emphasizing the perfectionism behind her comic genius and the stubbornness behind her star power.
Aaron Sorkin has been fairly criticized in the past for his flat writing of female characters, but this movie provides ample evidence that he can write dynamic women. The closeness between Lucy, her costar Vivian Vance (Nina Arianda), and writer Madelyn Pugh (Alia Shawkat) run throughout the week’s conflicts. The arguments the women have over the portrayal of Lucy and Ethel highlight issues around gender and Hollywood with Sorkin’s trademark banter and wit. Meanwhile, J.K. Simmons makes William Frawley both very grumpy and somehow unexpectedly loveable.
Now that Kidman has been in Nora Ephron’s strange take on Bewitched and a movie about I Love Lucy, maybe she should play Barbara Eden for good measure.
Being the Ricardos was written and directed by Aaron Sorkin. It runs 2 hours 11 minutes and is rated R for language.
In select theaters and on Netflix, The Lost Daughter tells the story of an American professor, Leda (Olivia Colman/Jessie Buckley), on vacation in Greece when her encounters with a young mother, Nina (Dakota Johnson), bring back difficult memories of her struggles when her own daughters were young. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut, The Lost Daughter focuses on the plight of two mothers who love their children but hate motherhood.
The film has the tone of a mystery but without a mystery. Instead, the slow, plodding story gets its suspense from Colman’s mesmerizing performance and the pervasive sense that something dreadful is going to happen among these vacationers who all behave terribly. Moments that seem like foreshadowing turn out to just be bleak vignettes in an unhappy life. The story itself was not particularly compelling to me, but the wonderful acting by Colman is sure to stand out in an already exemplary career. As Leda in flashbacks, Jessie Buckley steals the show in her portrait of an ambitious, frustrated young mother. Johnson has some striking scenes, but so much of her performance involves casting distressed looks Colman’s way.\
The Lost Daughter was written and directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal, based on the novel by Elena Ferrante. It runs 2 hours 1 minute and is rated R for sexual content/nudity and language.
Also on Netflix, the satire Don’t Look Up follows a group of scientists (Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, and Rob Morgan) as they try to save Earth from a comet that, when it makes impact in six months, will produce a mass extinction event like that which took out the dinosaurs. In a sadly predictable story, President Orlean (Meryl Streep) is slow to act on the information, waiting to see what the free market and tech leader Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance) can come up with instead. Cate Blanchett plays a blond “reporter” with too many perfect teeth and a love-hate relationship with unpleasant truths. Jonah Hill, Ariana Grande, and Tyler Perry also star.
Don’t Look Up is as often sad as it is funny, a conversation piece for our jaded times. It is sometimes a little too on-the-nose, but the performances, particularly by Blanchett, Lawrence, and, Grande, find the sweet spot between too serious and too outlandish.
Don’t Look Up was written and directed by Adam McKay. It runs 2 hours 18 minutes and is rated R for language, sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug content.