I remember back in high school taking a course called “Modern America Through the Media.” The course was an elective for upperclassmen that went through the history of media with a focus on film, television, and music. While I can’t 100% remember if this happened or not, I’m fairly certain that we, as a class, watched an episode of I Love Lucy. Even if we didn’t, we most definitely should have, since the show is considered by many to be one of the greatest television shows of all time, a fact that does not go unnoticed in Aaron Sorkin’s Being the Ricardos.
I Love Lucy defined television in the 50s and undeniably changed what it meant to even be a sitcom thanks to technological innovations and bold creative decisions like following Lucille Ball’s real-life pregnancy as the show was airing. So for Being the Ricardos to tackle a show with such a storied legacy and still be compelling in its own right is a challenge. The end result is ultimately weird. It’s a Frankenstein composite of different styles, time periods, and plotlines all competing and fighting one another simultaneously.
And yet, it all comes together in a way that had me excited at what Sorkin and crew were able to accomplish. I don’t know if this is going to be one of my favorite movies of the year, but it’s definitely on the shortlist.
Being the Ricardos
Director: Aaron Sorkin
Release Date: December 10, 2021 (Limited Theatrical), December 21, 2021 (Amazon Prime)
The film follows a tumultuous week on the set of I Love Lucy as the cast tries to prepare for the taping of the episode “Fred and Ethel Fight.” In the span of only five days, Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) has to contend with allegations that she’s a member of the Communist party, the fact that her husband, Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem), might be having an affair, and that she is pregnant. All of this collides with Lucy becoming critical of everyone and everything surrounding the show, as well as flashing back to how she first met Desi and began to achieve fame and status in the television world. Meanwhile, faux-documentary footage of the writers of the show is interlaced, detailing how the production of the show during the HUAC situation affected the cast and crew.
There’s a lot that’s going on at once with the film. Sorkin condenses most of the actual events that took place in Lucy and Desi’s life into the span of a week and really ratchets up the drama. The movie is undeniably busy and could easily fall apart under a lesser director. However, two elements are at play to make sure that the film doesn’t collapse in on itself: Sorkin’s script and the amazing cast.
To say that the film is funny would be an understatement. While Sorkin’s last film, Trial of the Chicago 7, felt very overlong and plodding at times, there’s a zing and spice to the dialogue here. Every character, whether they have a major role like Kidman or an assistant in the writer’s room, gets a chance to shine with a few good one-liners and punchlines. I shouldn’t be all that surprised that a movie dramatizing the production of one of the greatest TV comedies is funny, but all that the movie was missing in certain scenes was a live studio audience.
To explain a few scenes and the build-up/set-up for the jokes would give the goods away, so I can’t really specify just why it’s so funny. This isn’t farcical or over-the-top satire, but rather wit, wordplay, deadpan, and good ol’ fashion slapstick. It’s a very funny movie with some lines that I will go about quoting to others that saw the film as well. I never thought I would see Sorkin write slapstick, but he can nail it when given the right tools and context.
Those tools just so happen to be the actors assembled. Being the Ricardos was going to live and die by its Lucy and Desi, and Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem absolutely deliver, albeit for very different reasons. Bardem just has a blast playing Desi, from belting out big band songs with an orchestra to exuding charisma and charm within the writer’s room, getting exactly what he wants and always being the big man. Bardem does come across as being a bit too old to play Arnaz at times (Arnaz was in his late 30s and early 40s during the production of I Love Lucy while Bardem is in his 50s), but his enthusiasm and joy rub off on you, especially when he’s opposite Kidman.
While Nicole Kidman was never going to be able to perfectly replicate the comedy and personality of Lucille Ball, she does an admirable job and really conveys Lucy as a very driven woman. We see Lucy’s passion for acting as well as her devotion to her husband but also never shying away from difficult topics and questions. Kidman isn’t afraid to make Lucy confrontational and stand up for what she thinks is important, whether it be finding out if Desi is actually having an affair or when a director isn’t utilizing the cast effectively.
Individually the two are wonderful, but pairing both Kidman and Bardem makes the movie. Watching the two banter, argue, and romance each other for the two-hour runtime is what ultimately elevates Being the Ricardos from a good movie to a great one. Add in a solid turn from J.K. Simmons as William Frawley and Tony Hale giving a strong performance as Jess Oppenheimer and you have a cast that, by the end of the film, feels like a team that has each other’s backs. They may bicker and argue over script changes and general direction notes, but they’re still professionals who look out for each other.
Yes, the film still has some weird moments, like those fake documentary scenes that come right out of nowhere, but it all combines together to create a surprisingly strong package. I could easily see people criticize Being the Ricardos for being too busy and for constantly jumping from idea to idea. Those are valid criticisms. There’s no denying though that the film ultimately delivers where it counts.
Being the Ricardos is a funny movie starring two great actors who are almost certainly going to be receiving some award nominations this year. The movie will eventually be made available on Amazon Prime in a little less than a week, but Being the Ricardos is a movie that you should pay to see on a big screen and enjoy the experience that it delivers.