Being the Ricardos

Being the Ricardos

This may seem like a paradox…. Nicole Kidman’s performance in Being the Ricardos is one of his best in recent times.

But I had a hard time seeing Lucille Ball.

Does that make the film a disappointment? At all. Offers great insight into business acumen and relationship with Desi Arnaz. And it’s a lot of fun for that.

Most of Aaron Sorkin’s film is “behind the scenes,” with Kidman only having to assume the role of “Lucy Ricardo” during brief sitcom scenes.

The script largely hangs around a week during the second season in 1953, although there are also flashbacks of key moments such as the couple meeting or how the sitcom was commissioned by radio.

Central to the plot is the real-life fact that Ball had appeared before House Un-American Activities Committee investigator William A. Wheeler. In scandal-ridden Hollywood, it was the stuff of headlines that “Lucille Ball is a redhead.” And we’re not talking about hair color here, folks.

Sorkin deftly weaves this together with her second pregnancy (Desi Arnaz Jr.) and the issue of how a pregnant Lucy Ricardo could be filmed for a healthy TV audience: The network and sponsors were against even a mention of the idea.

“You can’t have a pregnant woman on television…. pregnant women often vomit,” they are told.

But behind every good comedian is a fiery Cuban producer, who calls the shots and, when necessary, the bluff of the powers that be. As Desi Arnaz, Javier Bardem does everything possible to protect Lucy and the DesiLu Studios property which they have turned into a national success. It’s a Hollywood game of calculated risk, but few counted on the courage of the Latino who had already broken every rule in the book just to get where he is.

The third subplot at play is Ball’s suspicion that Arnaz may be cheating on her. Ricky might have some explaining to do….

Caught in this triple crossfire are co-stars William Frawley (JK Simmons) and Vivian Vance (Nina Arianda) who play the haranguing I love Lucy neighbors, Fred and Ethel Mertz. Their off-screen exchanges reveal equal measure fights at the rehearsal table, but Sorkin also gives us Vance’s frustration with having to play the frumpy housewife and Frawley’s insight into the Ball/Arnaz marriage. These are wonderful inclusions.

There’s also a showrunner who struggles to keep his show together (Tony Hale) and a writer (Alia Shawkat) who Ball confides in on a regular basis: There’s a lot of debate as to whether Lucy is “stupid.”

But it is the fiery and intense marriage between the protagonist and the man that underpins this story.

As one producer recalls, “They were either tearing each other’s heads off or tearing each other’s clothes off.”

Kidman avoids affecting Lucy’s voice (which may have been high and strong when she was young, less so when she’s matured), and instead pushes for Ball’s spirit. He does it with considerable success. Similarly, Javier Bardem is not physically like Arnaz, but he never gives up his business genius (the man invented the multicam so as not to miss the facial shots of his wife’s work) nor his devotion to his wife.

If you’re not familiar with Lucy’s story this is a must see, and if you are you will no doubt be enthralled to see it celebrated in all its glory and its flaws.

Being the Ricardos screens Tuesdays on Amazon Prime Video.