Being the Ricardos surprised me. I expected it to be an imitation of I Love Lucy and it wasn’t. It was a behind the scenes look into a pivotal week in the life of Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) and Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem) as real people. It showed them as the creative, intelligent, passionate, people who crafted a famous television show.
In Being the Ricardos we saw the snarky, feuding cast members, the competitive writers, and the stuffy corporate suits that were behind the popular comedy. When the film opened with some staid, laid back orchestral music instead of the peppy theme song from the show, it was clear we were heading in a different direction. The first scene was a fight between Lucy and Desi after he hadn’t come home one night.
Lucille Ball was portrayed as a genius with comedy. She would argue with anyone – writers, directors, actors – who didn’t see her vision of the show and understand why it was funnier than theirs. It was also the week in her life when she was accused by Walter Winchell of being a Communist, when she confronted Desi Arnaz about whether he was carrying on with other women, and when Lucy and Desi informed their sponsors that Lucy was pregnant and they were going to do a show with a pregnant woman. Any of those three happenings could have been career ending in the 1950s. The film explores how they weathered this maelstrom of a week.
Flashbacks combined with documentary-like interviews from the future with the writers were used. The writers had younger versions and older versions. They were Jess Oppenheimer (Tony Hale/John Rubinstein), Madelyn Pugh (Alia Shawkat/Linda Lavin) and Bob Carroll (Jake Lacy/Ronny Cox).
The other main characters in the I Love Lucy show were Vivian Vance (Nina Arianda) and William Frawley (J.K. Simmons). These two were at each other’s throats most of the time, except when the cameras were rolling.
I thought the casting worked. I know there was a lot of pushback from fans who wanted someone else, someone who looked more like Lucy, to play Lucy. But Nicole Kidman captured the essence of the woman here, making her powerful and intelligent. I grew up watching I Love Lucy and I didn’t have any issues with the way Nicole Kidman played her.
Maybe if it had been the silly Lucy, the Lucy in front of the camera who was milking every physical gag for all it was worth, the casting should have been different. But the serious woman who was the real Lucille Ball is what the movie was about. That woman wanted a home and family and faithful husband. She wanted the funniest possible TV show.
Being the Ricardos was written and directed by Aaron Sorkin. He used his trademark snappy dialogue and quick jabs of humor. Everyone who worked on the Lucy show was funny, and the writing caught that.
Before the film was released there were so many negative comments about it, especially the casting, that I almost didn’t watch it. I’m glad I did. I enjoyed seeing how Lucille Ball’s comic mind worked, and what she was like as a person. That, to me, was what the film was about.