Today’s television landscape offers many certifiable hits, but none can compare to the early shows that defined what it meant to be popular and beloved by audiences everywhere. Chief among them was I Love Lucy, which gave star Lucille Ball a superb platform for her physical comedy and allowed her to work alongside her real-life husband, Desi Arnaz, playing an endearing and entertaining couple for America to enjoy. What is shown on screen is rarely mirrored in real life, and Aaron Sorkin’s Being the Ricardos visits a particularly tumultuous week for Lucy and Desi that highlights the stark difference between the people they are and the characters they play.
Though she has officially been cleared by the House Un-American Activities Committee, a new report indicates that Lucy (Nicole Kidman) is a member of the Communist Party. As Desi (Javier Bardem) and executives at CBS and Philip Morris scramble to contain the news before it is picked up by major papers, Lucy is perturbed and pours her energy into dissecting and rewriting a scene for the show, which irks the show’s writers to no end. As she obsesses and struggles to find contentment with it, the roots and complexities of her relationship with Desi come to light.
There is a great deal of entertainment and humor to be found in this film, particularly in early scenes that feature the banter between costars Vivian Vance (Nina Arianda) and William Frawley (J.K. Simmons) and also between writers Madelyn Pugh (Alia Shawkat) and Bob Carroll (Jake Lacy). Those witty back-and-forths are key to the tone and pacing of the film, which, like so many Sorkin projects before it, crams an astonishing amount of dialogue into an unextraordinary runtime, wasting few moments on unspoken exposition.
But, like Sorkin’s most recent film, The Trial of the Chicago 7, this is a drama that is infused with comedy. Lucy is perky and hilarious when she’s acting, and the barbs she delivers off-camera are funny as well, but there is a far more serious undercurrent to the way in which she is unable to accept the scenes that have been written for her, certain that she will eventually be able to come up with the perfect remedy to make them truly outstanding. She also finds herself disturbed by tabloid news of Desi’s extramarital activities that he denies all too vehemently to be believed.
Any biopic about a star as famous as Lucy must choose its focus carefully since a great deal of content and detail must be ignored, and selecting one memorable and chaotic week in her life is an effective entry method. The use of flashbacks helps to incorporate more of Lucy and Desi’s story that can’t be contained to just one short week, displaying the subtle differences in their demeanors from early beginnings to later celebrity. Though there is much that is not covered, this film offers an undeniably interesting snapshot of these two performers at the height of their fame.
This film’s cast is its best asset, with an incredible ensemble that emphasizes its least theoretically significant contributors. Shawkat and Lacy brilliantly enhance roles that could have been forgettable, and Arianda and Simmons are excellent both together and apart, with other performers like Tony Hale, Linda Lavin, Christopher Denham, Nelson Franklin, and Clark Gregg standing out in parts of varying size. Bardem is smooth and capable of mimicking Desi’s charm, and the real star of this film is Kidman. Though she bears questionably little resemblance to the person she plays, her physicality is remarkable and proves to be one of the film’s most enduring components. This is not a definitive portrait of Lucy’s entire life but a fascinating and immensely watchable excerpt that shines a new light on her personality and her public persona.
Being the Ricardos opens in select theaters on Friday, December 10th and premieres on Amazon Prime Video on Tuesday, December 21st.