Review: Being the Ricardos

By Christian DiMartino

In the 1950s, I Love Lucy reigned supreme. It is one of the great television classics of all time and people still remember it with admiration. It’s passed the test of time, and to further that, if you go into any nostalgia store, chances are you’re going to find I Love Lucy memorabilia. So, now comes the confession: I’ve never seen a single episode of it. Don’t jump to the “you’re an ignorant millennial” claim because that isn’t fair. If I had seen it, I’m sure the enjoyment would’ve been there, I am just (if I had to guess) a tad late to the party. This didn’t keep me from anticipating and later enjoying Aaron Sorkin’s Being the Ricardos though.

Even having no connection to I Love Lucy, Sorkin’s film works for a few reasons. For me, at least, and I say that because the verdict seems a little divisive. Being the Ricardos (on Amazon Prime December 21st) worked for me because, in a little over two hours, Sorkin managed to plunge me into the lives of these people, none of which I have much familiarity with. You get to know them, mostly like them, and enjoy their company. Not only that, Sorkin does a splendid job of capturing television in the 1950s, while also painting a pretty interesting depiction of who these people were overall.

It should be said though that, considering what Sorkin is capable of, this isn’t quite his best work. It’s quippy and zippy, to be sure, and it never really moves slowly. It doesn’t quite have the feel of a Sorkin Joint, but it at least talks like one. This is of course a well written movie, but it doesn’t sing in the way that something like The Social Network, A Few Good Men, The Trial of the Chicago 7, and Steve Jobs did. That being said, Sorkin the writer is always pretty good, and Sorkin the filmmaker is pretty good too, and for a little over two hours, he takes us to a time and place that is of course long gone, but also, in his hands, undeniably interesting.

This project has had my interest since the role of Lucille Ball was to played by Cate Blanchett. Perhaps this character was always destined to be played by an Australian, for whatever reason. Here she’s played by Nicole Kidman who, like Blanchett, is one of my absolute favorites. This casting earned criticism at first and maybe if you’re a Ball devotee, you’ll still leave the film displeased. As for me, what surprised me was Sorkin’s portrait of not just Ball, but someone like Ball in the 1950s. When you watch a product of this time you expect to see someone innocent and harmless, but charming, because that’s what most movies and television come across as in this time. Kidman’s version of Lucille Ball is feisty and sometimes a real pain, and yet Sorkin never loses sight of her as not only a human being but a creative force.

Sorkin’s film follows a week in the lives of the stars and production crew of I Love Lucy. In fact enough of them serve a purpose here to where the movie probably could’ve been called I Love Lucy. Nina Arianda, foe example, kills it as Vivian Vance, Ball and husband Desi Arnaz’s (Javier Bardem) co-star. As does J.K. Simmons as William Frawley, who comes across as kind of cold and sarcastic but has a soft, caring center. Being the Ricardos is mostly centered on the Ricardos though, because duh.

The film opens at the start of a production week for Lucy and Desi, and for starters, Lucy is accused of being a communist- an accusation she has to fight off throughout. There are also rumors of Desi having an affair. All the while, we see how the two of them fell in love through flashbacks. We also see how the two of them played such an integral role on the show, in the way that both of them almost sort of ran the show. A big chunk of the controversy here though occurs whenever Lucy discovers she’s pregnant, and Desi tries incorporating it into the show, much to the resistance of the network.

Alia Shawkat and Jake Lacey play two of the writers of the show- one of which is a bit too on the nose for Ball’s taste, and the other constantly tries to break through. Tony Hale is pretty strong too as the producer of the show, who sticks with Ball and Arnaz through their grievances. From the moment the film starts, every cast member chews through Sorkin’s dialogue the way that he certainly intended to, and it’s at times so witty and quick that the material soars. It’s a drama, to be sure, but there are a few good laughs here.

The fate of the film ultimately rests in the hands of Kidman and Bardem though, and while they’re an unlikely duo who also don’t fully resemble their real-life counterparts, both of them hit a home run here. Kidman in particular. She’s often been neglected in terms of recognition, which is strange because she’s given so many tremendous performances both on the big and small screen that I can’t even count them on my hands. Her performance in Being the Ricardos might be her ticket back to the Oscars though. It’s not a particularly flashy role, and not one of “Gimme an Oscar” status. Yet it’s also a fairly big performance, in that she’s playing a beloved member of Hollywood in a way that will feel unfamiliar to most, and it goes against what you’d expect of the performance while also delivering a pretty great one. It doesn’t feel like an impersonation, and like Kristen Stewart’s performance in Spencer, it feels like an interpretation of a real figure that pays off well.

Sorkin’s film is a pretty good one, and I liked just about all of it. Perhaps had I had an attachment to I Love Lucy, the film might’ve really cooked for me. Yet even on its own terms the movie is solid entertainment, doing a pretty good job of capturing the mood and creative spirit of television back in the 1950s. Admitted, by the time the film reached its end, I’m not 100% sure what story Sorkin was intending to tell. Yet he manages to capture 1950s television and a good amount of Lucy and Desi’s lives in just over two hours, and that’s no small feat.

5 responses to “Review: Being the Ricardos”

  1. Definitely planning to see this even though like you I have never sat down to watch a full I Love Lucy episode. I understand its place and importance as the first major hit TV show that established the sitcom format we all know today but a lot of the old TV shows don’t appeal to me much with their styles compared to more modern shows. I’ve mainly just seen the big scenes that everyone remembers through learning about the show in school, in passing, or parodies in other shows most notably the chocolate conveyor belt scene since it was parodied in Drake and Josh when they have the same experience with sushi that you may remember.


  2. Watching it as someone who’s also not that familiar with I Love Lucy, I found Being The Ricardos to be OK. There’s a lot good going for it from the acting to the storyline but while it’s technically good there’s not a lot of investment I get into Lucille Ball even though I found it interesting at how it discussed the various controversies and the context of it within the 1950s. Also, my big issue is how the film cuts to former writers on the show explaining about the situations happening in the movie. I mean it’s cool to hear from the real sources that are still alive but it interrupts the flow of the film to me and would have been better as bonus footage at the end.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Honestly like a week has passed and I keep forgetting I’ve seen it… which isn’t the best sign haha I liked it enough as I was watching it but I know what you mean

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I guess I was expecting more than what I got which to me just turns into a standard level biopic. You’re right though about Nicole Kidman. It feels like I see her in everything but don’t notice it a lot of the time. And for her part, she plays a good Lucille Ball for someone not all that familiar with her.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: