Film Review: Being the Ricardos

STUDIO: Amazon Studios | DIRECTOR: Aaron Sorkin | CAST: Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem, J.K. Simmons, Nina Arianda
SPECS: R | 125 min. | Biographical drama

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie

“Lucy…I’m home!,” Desi Arnaz’s Cuban bandleader Ricky Ricardo iconically proclaimed upon entrance to daffy red-headed wife Lucy Ricardo (played by his real-life wife Lucy Arnaz aka Lucille Ball) in the wildly popular 1950s sitcom I Love Lucy. 

The irony here is that Desi wasn’t at home a whole lot. He was usually out sleeping with different women, even as TV’s Ricardos became one of the most beloved American families in Hollywood history. 

Nicole Kidman is Lucy and Javier Bardem is in Being the Ricardos

As envisioned by writer-director Aaron Sorkin in Being the Ricardos, starring Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem as Lucy and Desi, respectively, Desi’s tomcatting, which was making headlines in the gossip rags of the time, is only one of the serious issues faced by the pair, as we observe them during one whirlwind week in 1952. There is also the threat they must endure as Ball is labeled a Communist by the media after a hearing with House Un-American Activities Committee. Then there’s the issue of how to cope with Lucy’s real-life pregnancy on their TV show, which leads to a heated debate between Lucy and Desi, the show’s production team, and authoritative powers of CBS Television and sponsor Phillip Morris. 

In order to show many key events that occurred over the six-year, 180-episode run of the top-rated show, Sorkin crams all of the incidents into a “A Week in the Life of Lucy and Desi,” counted down as a schedule for shooting an episode of the TV series.  The framework within the film is ingenious, allowing Sorkin to seamlessly leap from the week of filming an episode to flashbacks from the couple’s life, along with black-and-white reenactments of segments from the show. 

Much has been written about the choice of Kidman as the world’s most popular redhead, but the actress is up to the task. While Kidman’s appearance may not be perfectly matched to Lucy, her voice is on-target and she captures Ball as the sharp-tongued funny woman and uber-perfectionist who brought a lot more to the table than the pratfalls seen weekly on the show by millions.  Bardem is solid as Arnaz– the patriotic immigrant and straight man to his wife’s madcap small-screen antics– who runs the family business with calculated assurance behind-the-scenes. Also quite fine are J.K. Simmons as William Frawley, the cantankerous, heavy drinking actor who plays TV neighbor Fred Mertz, and Nina Arianda as Vivian Vance–aka Ethel Mertz–who continually wrestles with the way her character’s frumpy image is presented to the public. 

Of course, any project involving Sorkin, be it stage (A Few Good Men), film (The Social Network) or TV (The West Wing), is likely to feature his patented rat-tat-tat dialogue. Being the Ricardos is no exception, but rather than wearing the audience down with his sharp but sometimes incessant chatter, Sorkin’s bon mot-filled dialogue, especially when relayed by Kidman’s Lucy, zips along and enlivens the proceedings. 

About Irv

Irv Slifkin has been reviewing movies since before he got kicked off of his high school radio station for panning The Towering Inferno in 1974. He has written the books VideoHound’s Groovy Movies: Far-Out Films of the Psychedelic Era and Filmadelphia: A Celebration of a City’s Movies, and has contributed film reportage and reviews to such outlets as Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, Video Business magazine and National Public Radio.