Being the Ricardos - Movie Review
A 2021 Award Favorite
WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY)
Being the Ricardos
Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, Being the Ricardos, is part nostalgia, part character study and party docudrama. Sorkin obviously loves television and television history, and it shows here. Noted for his sharp, if sometimes glib, dialogue, Sorkin takes us behind the scenes of “I Love Lucy” in the early 1950′s. Lucille Ball, was arguably the most famous woman in America, with her weekly sitcom garnering up to 60 million viewers. More people tuned in to Lucy than Eisenhower’s inauguration. Despite the laughs on the tube, things are not so cheery and fun in the Ricardo’s real life.
Condensing three big dramatic events, that threaten to derail I Love Lucy into one week, the plot revolves around Lucy’s real-life pregnancy, public reports of Desi’s notorious infidelities and a story that surfaces that Lucy was once a communist. It seems that Lucy registered with the communist party as a young voter to please her grandfather, but during the McCarthy witch hunt red scares, it doesn’t matter how long ago this was, or why she did it. All these events did occur, but not in the same week. Sorkin’s dramatic license of combining them together is a great way to create dramatic urgency, which the film, despite this, sorely needs.
How much you enjoy Being the Ricardos may depend on several things: Are you fan of I Love Lucy, or television history? Also, I believe, it depends on what you think of the casting. Everyone seemed to have an opinion on who should play Lucy. There was an active campaign to cast Debra Messing, whose physical comedy skills and resemblance seemed to make her a perfect match. I am not sure if she was ever on the shortlist. Originally Cate Blanchett was cast, but she dropped out, for reasons unknown. Sorkin then made a bold move to cast fellow Aussie, Oscar and Emmy winner Nicole Kidman. The hive mind scoffed at this, “Nicole isn’t funny” – “she looks nothing like her.” I too, was a cynic with this choice, but Kidman really works hard here. She understands that Lucy is funny on the show, but in real life, she was a hardworking, serious businesswoman and vulnerable wife who wants to keep her marriage together. Kidman avoids imitation and works from the inside, understanding the woman who was Lucille Ball, not the celebrity who we all know. Sometimes she doesn’t look like Lucy, but other times her resemblance is uncanny. She won me over.
I also liked, very much, Javier Bardem as the charming, smart, Desi Arnaz. Often overshadowed in television history, by his iconic wife, whose importance is never questioned, Desi was crucial to the success of I love Lucy and despite his playboy image was an intelligent innovator. DesiLu studios, as their production company was known, basically invented the live audience, three camera sitcom production format that still exists today.
Of course, we cannot mention casting without talking about the two actors who play Ethel and Fred Mertz (Vivian Vance and William Frawley), here they are played by Tony winner Nina Arianda and Oscar winner J.K. Simmons. Both are excellent. It’s no secret that that the two actors didn’t care for each other and that the incredibly talented Vance, played down her own attractiveness to not compete with Lucy. Both these storylines are made vivid and real by the talented Arianda and Simmons. Emmy winner, Tony Hale plays executive producer and head writer, Jess Oppenheimer and Alia Shawkat plays fellow writer, Madelyn Pugh. Pugh was one of the first women writers in television, and lived a long life, not passing until 2011. Jack Lacey (who has been getting a lot of work lately) played the third member of the writing team, Bob Carroll.
Being the Ricardos is better than it should be, given the subject matter (that may not interest anyone under fifty ) and the lack of dramatic drive. Well written and well-cast, and despite Sorkin’s pedestrian direction, the film really works. Much of the kudos need to go to Kidman who defies expectations and makes the part of Lucy credible and all her own.
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