Written by: Aaron Sorkin
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem, J. K. Simmons, Nina Arianda, Tony Hale
Starring in a show bearing one’s name, especially one as immensely popular as “I Love Lucy” comes with plenty of pressure to perform just to keep the train running. Something that might not receive the attention of the audiences at home just taking in the jokes and the silly acting. Being the Ricardos successfully highlights this particular pressure, especially when in the middle of other turmoils in the life of one of television’s biggest icons.
With their hit show riding the wave of success, Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) comes under pressure because of an accusation of her being a communist. Something rare and damaging, which could mean the end for everything she has built. As they try to prepare for the fallout, Lucille must reckon with the potential inevitably of her husband, Desi Arnaz’s (Javier Bardem) infidelity.
Trying to capture the energy and star power of Lucille Ball certainly lies in the category of the unenviable because no one could possibly live up to the task. Well, if anyone could give it a swing, Nicole Kidman surely can. Through much skepticism, including from yours truly, it must be said she does quite an impressive job in bringing this icon to life. She, of course, does not compare but in an era where biopic performances almost jokingly mimic their muses, Kidman does something distinct with her take on Ball and it works for what the film seeks to accomplish. It breaks down the facade of what occurs away from the cameras as it digs into some insecurities and scrutiny this star must deal with.
A particular style of biopic where they avoid going through the highs and lows of the subject from the very beginning and just focus on a particular segment of their lives to demonstrate something distinct of the person has become such an intriguing take. Something incredibly refreshing and this feature falls right into this style where we do not see Ball break into the world of television and reach her heights. When we pick up with Ball in this narrative, she is fully in the prime of her career when this potential scandal hits her doorstep. The story focuses on what she needs to withstand in order to keep her marriage together and be a complete success and it displays without the gloss one would expect. One would think starring in a tremendously successful series with your partner would be a dream come true, but as this feature shows, it can truly be a nightmare.
While not wholly working as a biopic of Ball, this film does provide some interesting insight into what it takes for a successful television show of that era to work. Especially in a time when Lucy represented so much as a character but still had to fit within the confines of the male gaze and patriarchal view of art, this film brings up some excellent points. This particularly happens in the interplay between Ball and Vivian (Nina Arianda), namely the two main women of the story. They both reckon with what Lucy represents and constantly battle in giving the character some intelligence whereas much of the jokes of the show have their base on her being naive and dumb most of the time. One scene, in particular, that shows off the workman nature of a writer’s room demonstrates the team going through a particular scene. They lay out jokes and instead of them laughing at something genuinely comedic, they just make a positive remark. Not even a smirk or small laugh. This kind of work is pretty much like everything, a professional vocation and their job is to make others laugh, not each other. It very much matches the tone of the film as a whole where a feature focusing on one of the most famous comedic actors of all time barely has any laughs within it. Certainly a bold choice, but at least it comes with a level of consistency throughout.
Viewing this final product as a whole, it makes sense Aaron Sorkin would take this approach. He very much has his distinct style of snappy dialogue that can easily be picked out and it works with the quick nature of the television business. With these Hollywood individuals with heightened personalities, his directorial work allowed the actors to play it big whenever necessary, especially with Javier Bardem’s interpretation of Desi Arnaz. He really captures the boisterous personality of Arnaz and serves as an appropriate counterbalance to a more measured and professional performance given by Kidman.
Calculated, purposeful, and quite emotional in moments, Being the Ricardos probably does not fit what one would think makes a strong Lucille Ball biopic but it definitely gets the job done. As someone who’s a fan of Sorkin’s writing as a whole, this fits the bill and pretty much delivers what one could expect. Add to that some strong performances from a well-rounded cast and you have an enjoyable feature.