‘BEING THE RICARDOS’ Review: Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz Go Hollywood

A movie starring Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem, and J.K. Simmons and written/directed by Aaron Sorkin sounds like a home run, right? On paper, it seems like there is no way that it could possibly be screwed up; yet, “Being The Ricardos” tried its damnedest. Is “Being The Ricardos” a perfectly enjoyable movie? Absolutely. But a snappy script does not fully make up for the fact that the drama between Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) and Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem) isn’t interesting enough for a two-hour movie.

Casting controversies aside, the performances from both Kidman and Bardem are spirited and cannot be dismissed. “I Love Lucy” was never on a constant rotation in my household, but perhaps that helps the immersion. What’s most impressive about their performances, and all of them to be honest, is having to do the 50’s over-the-top style. There are some clips that replicate “I Love Lucy” episodes, and it’s evident that sitcoms in that era featured a different acting style. Nina Arianda as Vivian Vance and J.K. Simmons as William Frawley especially stand out in scenes where they rehearse scenes. The slapstick falls and what we would likely consider “cheesy” dialogue works when it comes from that pair.

Jake Lacy and Alia Shawkat star in “Being The Ricardos.” Photo: Glen Wilson © Amazon Content Services LLC

Any Aaron Sorkin script is expected to be great, and “Being The Ricardos” is no exception. Though the very quick and witty script works in terms of making viewers laugh, it at times can be hard to believe that writers, played by Jake Lacy and Alia Shawkat, would talk in this manner to their executive producer. It does make for hilarious scenes of dialogue, but the strength of the script is both the best and worst aspect of the film at times.

The script of “Being The Ricardos” will never put you to sleep. The same can not be said, however, about the story itself. Aside from the rigorous week of rehearsing for “I Love Lucy,” there is trouble in paradise in the Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz household. The real Madelyn Pugh, who is featured in the opening talking heads, summed up the relationship of Lucille and Desi as they were either “tearing each other’s heads off or tearing each other’s clothes off.” The controversies such as Lucille’s communist fiasco or Desi’s affairs don’t emotionally land in “Being The Ricardos.” Being that it’s a biographical drama, the way it ends is not surprising, even if you have no idea about the real-life situation. It’s the scenes revolving around a table read, or the tension between Lucille and the episode director that make “Being The Ricardos” interesting. Aaron Sorkin would make a wonderful film about the week leading up to some tumultuous “SNL” episode but let’s be clear; no one wants to see Pete Davidson’s side story during the week of Kanye’s appearance on the show in 2018. Seeing the production meetings and hearing the back-and-forth between writers, actors, and directors alike is what makes that even relatively interesting. “Being The Ricardos” fills in a lot of time with the drama between Lucille and Desi, but unless you’re an avid fan of “I Love Lucy” or its stars, it’s hard to imagine the film doing a lot for you.

Javier Bardem, Christopher Denham, Nina Arianda, J.K. Simmons, and Nicole Kidman star in “Being The Ricardos.” Photo: Glen Wilson © Amazon Content Services LLC.

An annoying gripe with the film is the time jumps. As mentioned, much of “Being The Ricardos” takes place during the one week leading up to the taping of an “I Love Lucy” episode. However, there are also scenes to fill in the gaps of both Lucille and Desi’s relationship. It’s sometimes obvious, such as the couple meeting for the first time. There are other occasions where that is not the case. For example, a detour is taken to show Lucille’s short-lived leading-woman period in Hollywood. Nothing makes it abundantly clear that the film is jumping back, and it was confusing to see Lucille’s manager, Jess (Tony Hale) talking about executives wanting to meet with her. It doesn’t take too long for the pieces to fit together, but a simple flash with the year would have been great.

To emphasize, it’s not as if “Being The Ricardos” is not going to entertain. This may be one of Sorkin’s best scripts yet, filled with great one-liners and killer quips; but the actual drama between Lucille and Desi remains interesting for only so long. Kidman and Bardem are both fine in their roles, but it’s Arianda and Simmons that really stand out with far more memorable scenes. “Being The Ricardos” is an “Oscar bait” movie that’ll likely get more hype than deserved; though the casting controversies may subside that.

Grade: C+

“Being The Ricardos” will release in limited theaters on December 10 before being available to stream on Prime Video on December 21.