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Being the Ricardos (A Movie Review)

Being the Ricardos


Starring Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem, JK Simmons, Nina Arianda, Tony Hale, Alia Shawkat, Jake Lacy, Clark Gregg, Linda Lavin, Ronny Cox, Nelson Franklin, John Rubinstein, Robert Pine, Christopher Denham, Jamie Miller, Pamela Mitchell, Jonah Platt, Sarah Hamilton, Matt Cook, Caroline Anderson, Shiree Nelson, Breanna Wing and the voice of John Funk.

Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin.

Directed by Aaron Sorkin.

Distributed by Amazon Studios. 125 minutes. Rated R.

I’m not going to lie; I can’t think of too many show-biz brands more polar-opposite than I Love Lucy and Aaron Sorkin. Lucy is broad, physical, wacky and slapstick. Sorkin is known for his thoughtful and beautifully verbose speechifying. Therefore, it gave me pause when I heard that Sorkin was writing and directing a film about Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz centering around the filming of I Love Lucy.

Of course, over the years Sorkin has become something of a specialist in adapting real-life stories for film – The Social Network, Steve Jobs, Moneyball, Charlie Wilson’s War, The Trial of the Chicago 7… even Molly’s Game… all put a Sorkin spin on true life stories.

Still, Lucy and Desi are far different than the slightly nerdy, tech-savvy, intellectual icons Sorkin has tackled previously. They are icons – but they are icons of a different era, with a very different artistic style than Sorkin normally treads in. (Probably the closest he has come previously was with the short-lived TV series Studio 60 on Sunset Strip.) Will he be able to stay true to the zany aspect of their public personas and at the same time to seriously portray their artistry and their humanity?

The good news is, yes, he can. These are a very different Lucy and Desi than we are used to seeing, but the film is mostly a triumph simply because he shows what serious, driven people that Ball and Arnaz were behind the camera. After all, it takes smart people to play the fool.

Instead of giving an overview on their life and loves, Being the Ricardos mostly looks at a single week – a very busy week – in the life of the stars, with some flashbacks to fill in the blanks. During this week, Ball and Arnaz must deal with making a new episode, breaking the fact that Lucy is pregnant to the studio, deal with the rumor that she is being investigated as a communist by the House Un American Activities Committee, power struggles in the production staff, unhappy co-stars and Lucy’s suspicion that Desi may be cheating on her.

That’s quite a week.

Of course, much of this is a commentary on today. The bringing up of the McCarthyism (who knew that Ball was in their crosshairs for a little while?), the troubles of being a woman in a man’s world, the mixed marriage, the inordinate pressure the studios and the sponsors placed on the show – all of these things ring true and all too current.

However, Being the Ricardos mostly does not come off as too preachy. Beating in the heart of the story is the love for the strong businesswoman and her iconic character, and every time the movie seems to be getting too serious, they will reenact a classic Lucy scene, and all is right with the world.

All of this mostly falls on Nicole Kidman as Lucy to carry the story, and despite an occasionally distracting makeup job, she is definitely up to the task. Kidman is able to show both Lucy’s hardboiled business acumen and her flightier screen persona.

Javier Bardem also inhabits the character of the Latin bandleader and co-star, making Desi a smart man who chooses his words and his power plays carefully. And as always JK Simmons nails the role of William Frawley, the aging vaudevillian who played Fred Mertz, making him both a drunk curmudgeon and the surprising voice of reason on set.

Occasionally Being the Ricardos gets bogged down in the Sorkin-ness of the script, but mostly it is a well-put-together tribute to the early days of television. It was an odd combination, but somehow it works.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2021 All rights reserved. Posted: December 11, 2021.

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