‘Being the Ricardos’ Is Not Just ‘I Love Lucy’ Fan Service, But Maybe It Should’ve Been
We’re all well aware of how stressful the past few years have been, and with that stress has come a desire for comfort in the form of nostalgia. And what could be more comforting than revisiting the comedic brilliance of Lucille Ball in I Love Lucy? Except, that isn’t what Aaron Sorkin does in his new film Being the Ricardos. Instead, he tells the stories of the real people behind the show, people who are dealing with immense stressors of their very own. And while it’s certainly interesting to learn more about the cast and crew behind such a beloved TV show, especially for those who only really know Ball as Lucy Ricardo, the film winds up falling flat and leaving you wishing that maybe you’d just watched old reruns of I Love Lucy instead.
Sorkin’s script mostly takes place over the course of one week, Monday to Friday, as the I Love Lucy crew prepare for their regular Friday evening taping while juggling the complications brought on by accusations that Ball is a communist, her pregnancy announcement and Ball’s private concerns that her husband Desi Arnaz has been unfaithful. However, it also bounces back in time to give the audience a peek into Ball and Arnaz’s love story and jumps ahead at points to hear from the three head writers of the show reminiscing about that week in what are supposed to be clips from a documentary crew. The flashbacks work wonderfully, giving depth to both Ball and Arnaz as individuals and to their relationship, but the documentary clips feel somewhat forced and out of place. They create a disconnect between the audience and the true meat of the story, forcing a sort of go-between interpreter when it isn’t really necessary. (Perhaps a voiceover or unseen narrator would have been a better way to set the stakes of the film, although the audience is probably clued in enough to figure this out on their own anyway.)
Javier Bardem and Nicole Kidman are both brilliant as Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball, and give beautifully nuanced performances that truly make you understand and adore the couple despite their, let’s say, challenging personalities. (Lucie Arnez has repeatedly praised Kidman’s performance, saying she “became my mother’s soul” and that she “crawled into her head.”) The rest of the cast is similarly phenomenal, bringing Vivian Vance’s Ethel (played by Nina Arianda) and William Frawley’s Fred (played by J.K. Simmons) back with a bang and introducing the audience to the writers, directors and producers who worked behind the scenes. All the major characters feel fully fleshed out and realistically complex, which again just makes the flash forward documentary shots feel simply unnecessary.
If you’re heading into Being the Ricardos hoping to laugh, relive some of the best scenes from I Love Lucy and come away with a smile, you’ll be sorely disappointed. It does have some darkly humorous moments (when Ball tells crew members about her pregnancy and is met with groans and concern about how they’re all going to work around this new “complication”), but Sorkin’s intention was never to have the audience rolling in the aisles with recreations of vitameatavegamin or the chocolate conveyor belt.
The writer/director is well known for his dialogue-heavy scripts and quick pacing, but Being the Ricardos also has its quiet moments and takes its time showing the audience who Ball and Arnaz really were. It also creates a vivid picture of what Hollywood was like in the early ‘50s, helping modern viewers to understand just how big a deal it was for Ball to appear on television while pregnant, why her potential communist status was so upsetting for both fans and her immediate circle and even why I Love Lucy itself—which starred a mixed-race couple consisting of a 40-year-old woman and her Cuban band-leader husband—was such a revolutionary program in the first place.
PureWow Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Being the Ricardos is not simple sitcom fan service, but it does paint a moving and at times devastating portrait of one of the best comedic minds to ever work in Hollywood. Kidman and Bardem’s performances are likely to earn (and definitely deserve) Oscar nominations, but Sorkin’s overly-complicated structuring muddies the overall effect and does a disservice to the entire cast’s excellent work. In the end, it’s a film worth watching if you’re a major fan of Lucille Ball, not just Lucy Ricardo, but is highly unlikely to be something audiences return to over and over again as they do I Love Lucy.
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