Amid mixed reviews of Nicole Kidman playing Lucille Ball in Being the Ricardos, and whether she nailed that 1950s accent, goggly eyes and the unique physical comedy range of the legendary TV icon, one thing is for certain.
Ball’s historical status in the history of Hollywood is enough to set tongues wagging about Kidman’s performance ahead of awards season, with the film already receiving multiple nominations for Golden Globe and Critics Choice Awards.
Yet for all the buzz Being the Ricardos has attracted, critics have been less than impressed with the film, amid long-standing disdain for the “Oscar bait” genre at its heart.
The New York Times said the film was a “lively, chatty, somewhat odd and insistently depoliticised biopic”.
“[Kidman] and Bardem are both miscast, but Kidman is a particularly off fit for Ball,” reviewer Manohla Dargis wrote.
Vulture went one step further, saying the movie “turns into a Wikipedia page, too flighty and shallow to give us any real emotional insight or to add to I Love Lucy‘s well-known lore”.
And although The Guardian said Kidman was brilliant, it only gave Being the Ricardos three stars, and said the film was “obsessed with deconstructing good screenwriting”.
Either way, biopics often attract a disproportionate amount of Oscar wins – as this UCLA research shows – and the list for the coming awards season is long and distinguished.
Being the Ricardos
Nicole Kidman – Lucille Ball and Javier Bardem – Desi Arnaz
Oscar winner Kidman, 54, told the Today show in the US she did her best to ignore judgmental comments on her portrayal of Ball: “But (I’m) a human being, so there’s times when you go, ‘Gosh, maybe I’m not the right person for this’,” she confessed.
“That’s where having somebody like Aaron, who really said at the beginning, he was like, ‘I’m not wanting a perfect rendition or imitation of Lucy. No, no, no, no, no’.”
The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) spent seven years studying US televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker, memorising all her lines and mannerisms from the hours of tapes she watched.
“I spent years looking at footage of her and never once saw mascara running down her face,” Chastain said.
“Tammy Faye was nothing like the caricature the media fed off of. She was the ordained minister Jim wasn’t.
“She preached acceptance and compassion and meant it, and that’s what we wanted people to see in this film”.
Will Smith – Richard Williams
Smith plays Richard Williams, father of tennis superstars Venus and Serena (who were executive producers on the film), and he has already received Golden Globe and Critics Choice nominations for his portrayal of their unrelenting (and sometimes flawed) father.
Says ESPN: “The script, written by Zach Baylin, is direct and uncomplicated, rooted in the solid, constant presence of a Black father figure, anchored by Smith’s monologues of self-reliance, hard work and the memories of a life (never shown on-screen save for the kids witnessing Richard being bloodied in real-time by a local gang member outside the tennis courts) of determination against humiliation”.
Jennifer Hudson – Aretha Franklin
Hudson told the ABC Franklin tapped her on the shoulder for the role.
She said preparing for it was a massive undertaking and her performance paid respect to the iconic soul singer: “I’m a fan, so I get it. I understand how prestigious it is [to have this role].
“And so you want to be able to nail those nuances and those things and traits that are familiar to us all.”
Cynthia Erivo – Aretha Franklin
Erivo plays Franklin in National Geographic’s “Genius” anthology series, telling Variety her preparation involved playing her songs on her iPhone, even in the shower, but the movie is so much more than just focusing on her career: “It’s about her activism, it’s about her motherhood, it’s about her music, it’s about her relationships, it’s about her life,” Erivo said.
Tahar Rahim – Charles Sobhraj
According to Screen Rant, this Netflix series focuses on a period in the 1970s where Charles Sobhraj allegedly murdered at least six people in Thailand, two in Nepal, and two in India: “The Serpent depicts Sobhraj’s 1976 arrest in Delhi, where he is sentenced to 12 years in prison after drugging a group of French tourists.”
House of Gucci
Lady Gaga – Patrizia Reggiani
Ridley Scott’s biographical crime drama centres around Patrizia Reggiani, played by actor and singer Lady Gaga (A Star is Born), and the murder of her husband Maurizio.
Gaga is up for multiple awards as a result. She told NPR she sympathised with the Gucci family amid criticisms of its historical accuracy.
“This must be extremely painful to watch it. A true life story comes through in what is essentially our version of what we believe to be the truth and Ridley’s version of the story,” she said.
Lady Gaga added that she did her best to make it “a story about women and survival”.
Kristen Stewart – Diana, Princess of Wales
Set amid a three-day trip to the Queen’s estate over Christmas, Stewart’s reimagining of the princess has had critics and audiences alike praising her portrayal.
One Rotten Tomatoes critic wrote: “Leave it to actor Stewart to save the day. Ninety per cent of the time she brings the spirit and look of Princess Di back to earth in an eerily real performance that captures the spirit of Buckingham Palace’s most rebellious daughter-in-law.”
The Tender Bar
Ben Affleck – Charlie Moehringer
Based on JR Moehringer’s best-selling memoir, this George Clooney-directed coming-of-age biopic tells the story of Charlie, JR’s uncle who runs a pub on Long Island and teaches him life lessons.
A Salon review says Affleck’s performance “is never smug or smarmy … moreover, Clooney gives Affleck room to just be and it is key to the film’s success”.
Impeachment – American Crime Story
Beanie Feldstein – Monica Lewinsky
Feldstein says playing someone real is a “huge undertaking”, but Lewinsky collaborated on the show and the end result is an accurate portrayal of her younger self during the Clinton administration.
“It was daunting because I just want to do right by her. All that matters to me is what she thinks,” she told The Hollywood Reporter.
Ewan McGregor – Roy Halston Frowick
McGregor plays 1970s US fashion designer Roy Halston Frowick in Netflix series Halston, which has earned him a Golden Globe nomination in the Best Actor Television Motion Picture category.