Note: Spoilers! Avoid this review if you haven’t seen the film, just to be on the safe side.
Over the years, there have been quite a few portrayals of Lucille Ball–and unsurprisingly so. She and her husband, Desi Arnaz, made a massive impact on comedy and the sitcom style of storytelling. From Lucy and Desi: Behind the Laughter (1991) and Lucy (2003), to a multitude of books and documentaries, much has been discussed and portrayed in connection to I Love Lucy and the individuals integral to this show. Nonetheless, much remains to be explored.
Being the Ricardos (2021), written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, takes on telling the story of Ball and Arnaz once again–this time condensing huge moments from their personal and professional lives and packing them into one chaotic week. Though parts of their lives and the timeline portrayed in the film are not necessarily truthful, Sorkin’s script executes them for the sake of drama. Flashing from present to past and back again numerous times, Sorkin’s writing attempts to capture various moments from Ball’s life and career. Though ambitious, the story tends to get lost in the whirlwind of events.
In terms of what is portrayed, it is interesting to see what Sorkin chose to portray and what he did not. There are awkward sexual moments in the story and some lines that scream modern-day dialogues as opposed to discussions in 1950. Drawing from the existing autobiographies from the stars of the show, there were some frank words exchanged during the course of the show that somehow do not make it into the film–though other fictionalized moments do.
Overall, the cast offered performances that were strong and captured the characterization of the individuals portrayed. Nicole Kidman, in the lead role of Ball, adopted Ball’s raspy voice and mannerisms quite well. Yes, she doesn’t really look like Ball (in my opinion), but she captures the essence of her personality well; Ball emphasized that she was funny on paper, not in-person, which Kidman took to heart. Fans of the show looking for a perfect re-creation of Ball or any other I Love Lucy cast member are fated to be disappointed during any biopic the talents connected to the show.
Javier Bardem’s Arnaz, though perhaps larger in stature than Arnaz himself, delivers an impassioned performance that shines best when it is in harmony with the Michael Andrew Orchestra’s sublime music. Best of all, Nina Arianda and J.K. Simmons steal the show with their respective portrayals of Vivian Vance and William Frawley. Arianda perfectly embodies Vance, while Simmons’s Frawley is initially perceived as gruff and grouchy but is a much-appreciated character by the end of the story.
As a matter of personal interest, I was thrilled to see Madelyn Pugh Davis portrayed in this film. I am a big fan of her writing and was happy to see Alia Shawkat deliver a performance that was well-balanced in terms of drama and comedy, in addition to putting forth Pugh’s burning wit. Moreover, the film is supplemented with actual interview footage of Pugh herself.
With that being said, I wound up enjoying this film much more than I thought I would. It was interesting to revisit these individuals on the big screen once again and, ideally, will serve to pique the curiosity of viewers to enjoy I Love Lucy and the filmographies of the original stars.
At the time of writing, Being the Ricardos is available for viewing via Amazon Prime Video.