If you’re like me, you’ve often enjoyed an episode of I Love Lucy without ever considering the life of Lucille Ball. Sure, I got a kick out of the show, and even at a certain point knew she was fair more than just an actress. That being said, it never went much deeper than that, especially when watching as a kid. Of course, I’ve never considered the story as told to me by Aaron Sorkin. Enter Being the Ricardos, an historical drama that circumvents almost any biopic impulses. Instead of going cradle to the grave with Ball, or doing the same with Desi Arnaz, Sorkin finds a period in which his curiosity bears fruit. The result is an incredibly compelling and entertaining drama, one with big bits of comedy, but also a heaping dose of melancholy. Sorkin’s dramaturgical skills are as sharp as ever with this film, ladies and gentlemen.
Being the Ricardos takes us behind the scenes of not just I Love Lucy, but the Lucy-Dezi partnership, both of which were fraught yet commercially successful. Not only are Sorkin’s cinematic instincts on the money with where to focus the story, the movie features some of the year’s best acting. It’s all in service of a tale about a time in Hollywood both much different than now, as well as (sadly) all too familiar.
Taking place during a week of production on their hit show, the film follows the personal and professional turmoil of Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) and Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem). A married couple, as well as co-stars/producers of the hit show I Love Lucy, they’re titans. Alongside co-stars William Frawley (J.K. Simmons) and Vivian Vance (Nina Arianda), they craft comedy gold. However, this won’t be an ordinary week. For one, Desi is on the cover of a tabloid with another woman. Additionally, the radio has reported that Lucy is a member of the Communist Party. Oh, and Lucy’s pregnant, which is a no-go for network television. Now, go put on a show!
As the week progresses, Lucy continues to obsess over getting the show right, while periodically coming back to Desi’s potential infidelity. At the same time, Desi is duking it out with the network over showcasing Lucy’s real life pregnancy on the show, as well as trying to take steps to get the tabloids off of her back. With the clock ticking down, it’s a race to the finish, both in terms of making this I Love Lucy episode as good as it can be, but to salvage their personal lives/marriage.
The cast may not look exactly like their real life counterparts, but this quartet deliver four of the year’s best performances. Anyone who doubted Nicole Kidman and her ability to ace the role should have remembered just how talented she is. Kidman never does an impression, instead just finding the dramatically compelling character within. For my money, it’s her best performance to date. She’s note-perfect. So too are Nina Arianda and J.K. Simmons, who have pivotal interactions with Kidman throughout. Javier Bardem is terrific too, playing into how people at the time perceived a Cuban man. He’s charming and funny, but has some dynamite scenes with Kidman. The four are legitimately all fasntastic here. Supporting players in the cast include the likes of Clark Gregg, Christopher Denham, Tony Hale, Jake Lacy, Alia Shawkat, and more.
Aaron Sorkin continues to impress as a filmmaker. We’ve been well aware that he’s the best screenwriter in the business, but this sophomore outing behind the camera showcases that he’s a rock solid director as well. The film looks great, due in no small part to the cinematography by Jeff Cronenweth, while the Daniel Pemberton score is aces. Sorkin’s writing may still be outclassing his direction, but there’s no doubt that he’s a duel threat these days, while hammering home his brilliant eye for casting. Up and down the line, the actors and actresses he selects are pitch perfect. Moreover, he astutely limits the recreations of the classic show. What we see is flawless, but it’s less than five minutes in a two hour and five minute running time.
One has to assume that the Academy will dig Being the Ricardos. To what extent? Well, that remains to be seen. Nicole Kidman seems like a safe bet for a Best Actress nomination, with the same going for Aaron Sorkin in Best Original Screenplay. As for anyone else, or Best Picture? There are definite possibilities, but Amazon Studios will have to launch a robust campaign. If they do so, the possibilities are endless. If they don’t, however, it has the potential to miss a few key citations.
Being the Ricardos is crackerjack entertainment. Aaron Sorkin’s writing and the cast all work in concert to deliver something expertly executed. From top to bottom, this flick is about as enjoyable as it gets. Old Hollywood fans, I Love Lucy lovers, Sorkin acolytes, and just about anyone in search for a great movie will find this to be a treat. Don’t miss it, whether you see the film in theaters or take it in on Amazon Prime Video.