Being the Ricardos | Movie Review

After growing up with “I Love Lucy” reruns, many of us are anxious to see a good story about everyone’s favorite redhead, everyone’s favorite bandleader husband, everyone’s favorite neighbors, all appearing on everyone’s all-time favorite sitcom.

That’s not what you are going to get with Aaron Sorkin’s “Being the Ricardos,” starring Oscar winners Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem as Lucille Ball/Lucy Ricardo and Desi Arnaz/Ricky Ricardo respectively, with Tony winner Nina Arianda as Vivian Vance/Ethel Mertz and another Oscar winner, JK Simmons, as William Frawley/Fred Mertz.

The cast is fantastic, with not one flat performance. Knowing that legions of fans might be distracted by a lack of physical resemblance, the stars and supporting cast worked their tails off delving into the characterizations. 

Bardem is strong and fiery as Arnaz, but also shows us a very manufactured and calculated businessman who doesn’t mess around – at least when it comes to the television show and the reputation of his famous wife. 

Simmons is cranky, crass, drunk and hilarious as Frawley, yet manages to be a voice of reason and compassion. Whether the real Frawley had moments like that is beside the point; Sorkin takes liberties with several aspects of the real-life timeline and fictionalized conversations anyway. 

Arianda looks like Vance and does a great job portraying the downtrodden second-banana to Ball’s overpowering star. It’s too bad the side story of Vance’s struggles with her weight and dealing with references to Ethel’s frumpiness isn’t explored a little more. 

There are witty and fast-paced performances from Alia Shawkat and Jake Lacy as Madelyn Pugh and Bob Carroll Jr., head writers of the show. 

Tony Hale is awesome as downtrodden, long suffering, head writer and producer Jess Oppenheimer, who deals with power struggles with the stars and his own frustrations when his vision for the show isn’t always realized.

Much like Lucy to “I Love Lucy,” this movie belongs to Kidman. She is versatile and has the smokey, gravel-voiced Ball down pat, transitioning into the sometimes grating and high-pitched Lucy with ease. We’ve all heard what a tough broad Lucille Ball was, and Kidman nails the stoic, tough and unapologetic taskmaster while showing us a few emotional cracks along the way. 

The wardrobe and makeup department did a pretty good job, although I thought Kidman’s Lucy looked a little plastic before she went on the air. However, I was impressed how Kidman makes her willowy thin frame convince us she’s capable of the physicality that the 5-foot-7 Ball was famous for. Kidman moves like a movie star of old after the studio polished them a bit. Her constant intensity and failure to ever completely relax makes us all a little uneasy.

As if following a checklist from some sort of 21st century “What Should Always Be in a Movie These Days” rule book,  “Being the Ricardos” includes plenty of bumptious liberal-types stomping around scenes, one-upping each other and arguing. Everyone, including probably Sorkin himself, seems to struggle with a superiority complex.

We hear plenty from the strong female characters in the movie, who are portrayed as more assertive, smarter, and more anti-male than the ladies of the 1950s probably behaved. If I am wrong, I stand corrected.  

The movie is good stuff, not at all what I expected, but still pretty good. As I said, I get tired of movies of today being so darned political and I especially want movies based on real-life happenings to just tell the story – with or without a little bit of fiction mixed in. 

My grade for this one? B. Make sure you see it. You’ll probably be satisfied seeing it at home, though.

“Being the Ricardos” opens today in select theaters and streams on Amazon Prime on Dec. 21. Running time is 125 minutes. The movie is rated R for language.

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Mark Tullis

Mark is a 25-year veteran teacher teaching in Columbia. Originally from Fairfield, Mark is married with four children. He enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with his family, and has been involved in various aspects of professional and community theater for many years and enjoys appearing in local productions. Mark has also written a "slice of life" style column for the Republic-Times since 2007.
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