I Love Being the Ricardos. Whether you are a fan or scholar of I Love Lucy or not, this biographical motion picture is for you! Go behind the walls of 623 E. 68th St. (an address that in real life would be in the East River), and get up close and personal with one of the toughest weeks in Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’ careers and the run of the sitcom. Being the Ricardos also represents Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut, and be brings with him his penchant for exploring the human condition through dialogue steeped in subtext, thus adding the dramatic dimension to the dialogue. What I appreciate about Sorkin’s approach is how he seamlessly layers two timelines and a meta narrative into one another, in a manner that is consistently driving the plot forward in terms of plot and character. While the central focus of the film is on Lucille Ball being accused of being a communist, there are ancillary stories on Desi’s affairs and Vivan Vance’s complicated relationship with Lucille Ball and her character Ethel Mertz. William Frawley is depicted as the most level-headed out of the whole cast. Other dynamics of the mother of all sitcoms include the the power dynamic between the writers Madelyn Pugh, Bob Carroll Jr., and executive producer Jess Oppenheimer. Throughout the film, one theme is clear: home. What does a home mean or look like to you? Lucy desires a home, and she will fight for it.
In 1952, Hollywood power couple Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz face a series of personal and professional crises that threaten their careers, their relationship and their hit TV show.
With so many layers at play, it may have proven to be disastrous for many if not most writer-directors, but not Aaron Sorkin. Any reviews you’ve heard or read that suggest Being the Ricardos is too inside baseball are wildly exaggerated. Yes, there is a greater appreciation for the film by those that know I Love Lucy well, but even those that only know of the sitcom will appreciate it. The friend that attended with me had virtually no substantive knowledge of I Love Lucy, yet he laughed along with this film, and knew precisely what was going on and why it was so important. If you are a member of the creative economy that runs, writes for, or acts in a sitcom, then you will have a greater level of empathy and understanding for the ups and downs faced by writers, actors, producers, and sponsors in Being the Ricardos.
Being the Ricardos starts out “in the future” with interviews with the (late in real life) Jess Oppenheimer, Bob Carroll Jr., and Madelyn Pugh about I Love Lucy and that week–and they all had the same reaction. Although I thought the three comedy writers had passed away, I was completely convinced that Sorkin was interviewing the TV legends. I actually had to check Wikipedia for the death dates. Anyway. The illusion of a documentary layer added to the authenticity of this film. Periodically throughout the film, we return to our writers and executive producer for some retrospective commentary on the “past” or “present” story. These interview segments provide a more substantive context for the conflict to follow. Furthermore, it adds come comedic relief for the otherwise serious film.
Often times, these type of biographic motion pictures work to humanize or make relatable the central figure(s), and Sorkin’s film does just that. Even though the world knows that Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz divorced in 1960 (following the final performance of the Lucy Desi Comedy Hour), we still think fo them as the madly-in-love couple at 623 E. 68th St (and later at their house in West Chester, CT). Going behind the scenes, we witness four actors with their own demons and flaws. Perhaps you can identify with the struggles experienced by Lucy, Desi, Vivian, or William (Bill). And not just them, but Madelyn, Bob, and Jess too. More than a historical biographical picture, this is a motion picture that is very much a story of what it means to be human that is paired with a deep dive into one of the most beloved TV shows of all time.
Kidman’s performance as Lucille Ball and Javier Bardem’s performance as Desi are excellent! While Bardem may not disappear behind the costuming, hair, and makeup to the degree that Kidman does, he had Desi’s mannerisms and body language down pat! Clearly, he spent a great deal of time preparing for a role that has major shoes to fill, or should I say bongos to play. From her voice to her appearance to her body language, Nicole Kidman will wow you with her portrayal of the Queen of Comedy Lucille Ball. Kidman’s preparation for this role of a lifetime paid off in spades. If I didn’t know any better, I’d almost believe that I was watching Lucille Ball on screen. It reminds me, in many ways, of Jessica Chastain’s outstanding performance as Tammy Faye in (my favorite film of 2021) The Eyes of Tammy Faye.
For fans of the show, you may notice some continuity errors. Now, these errors don’t detract away from the film, but may surprise you. The show is in the middle of the second season, but the apartment set is the apartment they would move into after Little Ricky was born in Season 3. The giveaway was the window in the back. And in the film when they are referring to baby the Ricardos will have, it’s actually Desi Jr. that would be born during the third season and not Lucie, which is what is depicted in the film.
While we get a flashforwards to the famous grape vat scene, we do not get the most famous scene from I Love Lucy of all time: Vitameatavegemin. It is referenced, but we do not get to see Kidman recreate this scene. Maybe it’s a bonus feature on the BluRay. I hope so anyway!
Ryan teaches American and World Cinema at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.
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