Finding the right marriage of elements to make something successful is never easy. That applies to everything from making a recipe to making a TV or movie production to actual marriage. People on the outside of a bond that works well often don’t know just how much work it takes to make everything just right.
The new film Being the Ricardos goes in depth on one extremely stressful week on the set of I Love Lucy, one in which Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) faces the threat of being labeled a Communist during the height of the Red Scare in the 1950s. In the film, it’s also the same week that Lucille and her husband/co-star, Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem), reveal that she is pregnant with her second child and intend to have her character be pregnant as well, which would be the first time that had been done on television.
Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, the film goes behind the scenes of the show, showing how both Lucille and Desi asserted their control, often in the face of objections of the writers, executives, and advertisers. It also breaks down the complicated nature of the various relationships related to the show, including Lucille and Desi themselves, the three-person writing room, co-stars William Frawley (J.K. Simmons) and Vivian Vance (Nina Arianda), and more.
Any trepidation that the distinct patter of Sorkin’s dialogue might not mesh well with a period piece set around a sitcom is put to rest almost right away. There are plenty of comedic moments in the film, but only a few involve lines from the sitcom itself. The comedy is blended seamlessly with the drama of this particular week and everyone’s lives, making for an ultra-compelling finished product.
As Sorkin is not crediting a particular source material, how much of what is shown in the film is 100 percent accurate is debatable. But what’s not in doubt is how well the film is crafted. He brings the internal and external struggles of Lucille and Desi into sharp relief, and also highlights how groundbreaking the show was, being centered on a woman, starring a Cuban American, bucking the trend of hiding a pregnancy, and more.
The story is also told in such a way that it can be enjoyed equally whether someone knows I Love Lucy well or if they’re coming to it for the first time. Sorkin uses a faux-documentary device of older versions of the three writers talking about the show and this period of time, which gives helpful contextual information. The re-creations of classic scenes are fun, but even better are the creative conversations surrounding those moments.
At 54, Kidman seems to be more powerful than ever in Hollywood, and she’s astonishingly good as Ball. Subtle prosthetics transform her face and she nails Ball’s distinctive voice, but more than that, she shows how powerful Ball actually was, a contrast with her ditsy character. Bardem, even though he doesn’t especially look like Arnaz, is equally good. Each of the supporting actors, including Simmons, Arianda, Tony Hale, Alia Shawkat, Jake Lacy, Clark Gregg, and more, do yeoman’s work in reinforcing the story being told.
Being the Ricardos is an example of ingredients being put together in just the right way to yield a near-perfect result. Seventy years after the show was on the air, Sorkin has made the story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz as relevant as it ever was, an accomplishment that should result in many award nominations.
Being the Ricardos is now playing in theaters and premieres on Amazon Prime Video on December 21.