Being the Ricardos is a biographical drama written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, about the relationship between the “I Love Lucy” cast of Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, William Frawley, and Vivian Vance. I anticipated the story to be mostly about the relationships between the four actors and a little about their personal lives. Instead, I was surprised they decided to go with the horrifying McCarthy era of communist accusations against Lucille Ball. Not a funny situation but a well-written story. I would rather they had gone with my expectations.
The film is told from three perspectives: interviews with the show’s three lead writers: Jess Oppenheimer (Tony Hale/John Rubinstein), Madelyn Pugh (Alia Shawkat/Linda Lavin), and Bob Carroll Jr. (Jake Lacy/Ronny Cox); flashbacks; and preparations for a live taping in 1953.
In 1939, 28-year-old and single actress, Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) is contracted to RKO Pictures. Because she is only cast in “B” movies, Lucille inherits the moniker “Queen of the B movies” title. While cast in “Too Many Girls” she meets 22-year-old Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem) who is also one of the cast. They fall in love, marry and buy a house in Hollywood. Desi has a career singing with his “Desi Arnaz Orchestra” that tours all over the country. Desi serves in WWII, upon his return, he resumes his singing and acting career with his band.
In 1942, Lucille is cast in a film called “The Big Street”, which fared better than her former movies. Thinking she would now get better scripts, she was terminated instead with a suggestion that she use her voice for radio.* In 1948, she was cast in “My Favorite Husband” which became a huge hit. She is then approached by CBS and Phillip Morris to launch a TV show. Lucille holds out for her husband to be awarded the role of her spouse. In 1953, the show was renamed “I Love Lucy”. The cast of the Mertzes didn’t get along with the Ricardos, which caused much fighting on the set. William Frawley (JK Simmons) was mostly drunk while on set and Lucille Ball constantly clashed with the director and writers. When she became pregnant, the network wanted to hide Lucille behind boxes, plants, and anything that would keep her pregnancy from being shown to the audience. Lucille would have no part of this and won the fight but could not use the word pregnant on screen.
In the meanwhile, Desi’s cheating urged Lucille to give him star billing but it didn’t help. The show takes a turn when McCarthy accuses Lucille of being a Communist. The film ends with a title card saying Ball filed for divorce after the taping of their last show in 1960.
The Lucille Ball I grew up with was hilarious and quite entertaining. First off, I thought the casting was terrible. I thought they got it right casting JK Simmons as William Frawley. Although JK is taller and much slimmer there was a strong resemblance to William. I thought Debra Messing would have made a much better “Lucy” over Nicole Kidman who is an excellent actress but didn’t look anything like Lucille Ball and why an Australian over an American with real red hair that was very close to Lucille’s. Javier was so far away from Desi’s accent and boyish look, I couldn’t wrap my head around the character. I thought Javier was too old for the part, sometimes coming off more as a father figure than a husband. Secondly, I didn’t really need to know about the Communist accusation because it only served to dampen my image of the famous funny lady. I had hoped “Being the Ricardos” would focus on Lucille Ball’s upbringing, marriage to Desi Arnaz, and the making of “I Love Lucy”. I had heard the actress who played Ethel Mae Potter Mertz had to be much less attractive than Lucille Ball, so they kept Vivian Vance a little plump, however, Nina Arianda’s appearance didn’t convey that. For me, too much McCarthy, the wrong cast, and not enough focus on the funny side of Lucille Ball.
The review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes reports an approval rating of 68% based on 251 reviews, with an average rating of 6.7/10. The website’s critics consensus reads: “Being the Ricardos can’t hope to truly capture its subjects’ brilliant star power, but Nicole Kidman has a ball with Aaron Sorkin’s spitfire dialogue.” I didn’t love Being the Ricardos but I thought it was well-acted and entertaining. Check It Out!
[BEING THE RICARDOS is Oscar-nominated at the 94th Academy Awards for Best: Actor, Supporting Actor, and Actress — Totaling 3 Oscar Nominations]