BEING THE RICARDOS is directed by Aaron Sorkin. The film stars Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem, JK Simmons, Nina Arianda, Tony Hale, Alia Shawkat, Jake Lacy, and Clark Gregg.
In the 1950s as I LOVE LUCY reigns as one of television’s biggest hits, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz find themselves in the most hectic week of their lives. An old news story claiming Ball as a member of the Communist Party, and Ball’s recent pregnancy both threaten to derail their careers as well as those of their co-stars, Vivian Vance and William Frawley. The witty and sharp-tongued Ball confides in her husband as they try to go about finding the best way to tackle the obstacles at hand, maintaining their prowess on the 1950s television airwaves.
There’s not a soul on this planet who’s never heard of I LOVE LUCY. It was the most popular television series of its day, and its stars were household names who are still revered to this day, long after their passing. BEING THE RICARDOS has the task of telling the story of one of the cast’s most hectic weeks, not to mention “flashback” interviews and retrospectives of how one of television’s most popular entertaining couples came to meet. It has a tall order to fill, but thanks to promising performances from its stars and supporting cast members, it succeeds more often than it falters, even if it does bite off a bit more than it can chew at times.
The stars of BEING THE RICARDOS don’t disappoint in the least, even if portraying these larger-than-life figures is quite the task for anyone to fill. Nicole Kidman is transformed into Lucille Ball, with sassy attitude and a snarky quip for any situation, no matter what the circumstance at hand may bring. Kidman, armed with a witty retort for anything anyone else throws her way, owns the screen every time she’s on it. Nearly as entertaining is Javier Bardem, taking a break from his usual murderous psychopath roles to tackle something completely different. I admire Bardem for tackling the challenge of portraying Desi Arnaz (he’s certainly the last man I’d expect to play this part), and the true surprise is how well he gets into this role, giving a performance the real Desi would be proud of. The chemistry between the film’s leading twosome keeps its two-hour duration interesting, dramatic, and when the need comes for it, hilarious.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in the film is JK Simmons as William Frawley (the actor who played Fred on I LOVE LUCY). Right from the get-go, Simmons gets the film’s funniest lines and dialogue, whether he’s ranting about wanting to beat up a child who’s supposedly a member of the Communist Party (I’m not making this up!) or finding means to justify his drinking. Despite this, he’s not wasted (figuratively or literally) in this role, even serving as a voice of reason when the plot calls for it. It will be absolutely criminal if Simmons doesn’t receive a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his part here; Sorkin’s sharp-witted writing is felt in every one of Simmons’ scenes, but he’s also careful not to let Simmons’ Frawley overshadow Bardem and Kidman. Other members of the supporting cast fare well too, including the likes of Tony Hale, Clark Gregg, and Nina Arianda as co-star Vivian Vance.
Also to be admired is the look and atmosphere of BEING THE RICARDOS, which transports the viewer back in time to an age when television was king, and Ball and Arnaz were the rulers of the airwaves. The period detail, from architecture and music to the filming equipment and sponsor spots all look and sound phenomenal. It’s a beautifully put together movie, and the atmosphere combined with Sorkin’s writing and direction come together nicely to create something for the ages, recapturing a bygone historical era in the entertainment world.
Where BEING THE RICARDOS comes slightly unhinged is in its slightly awkward narrative structure. There are three core elements here – The main plot consisting of a week of filming during which the film’s drama unfolds, flashbacks to when Lucy and Desi first met and how their future in television became a reality, and interview clips with aged show personnel flashing back to the events the movie consists of. The main story itself is interesting and involving enough, and the flashbacks, while interesting, take away from the core narrative and somewhat slow the momentum of the film. Quite honestly, I don’t think the “later-set” interview clips were needed; the production speaks for itself. Sorkin creates a solid film here, but I believe it could have worked better as a) two separate films, or b) a limited-run series/miniseries.
While BEING THE RICARDOS is somewhat troubled by its narrative structure, I won’t deny that the movie itself is quite powerful, largely thanks to the contributions of Aaron Sorkin; one of the entertainment industry’s most gifted writers, not to mention the lead roles from Bardem and Kidman, and Simmons’ surprise standout supporting performance. It’s a gorgeous looking well-written film that comes strongly recommended despite its negligible flaws.