‘Being the Ricardos’ wasn’t easy: Aaron Sorkin reveals feel-good sitcom’s thorny reality

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Grade: 2.5/5.0

“I Love Lucy” was hilarious, innovative and immensely popular — the television show was the most-watched show in the United States for four of its six seasons. It’s no surprise, either. Actress Lucille Ball showcased immense talent for physical comedy that made the naive but well-intentioned Lucy shine on screen. Beside her, Ball’s then-husband (both in real life and on the screen as Lucy’s husband, Ricky) Desi Arnaz possessed impeccable comedic timing, paired perfectly with ditzy Lucy as the archetypal “straight man” of their duo. 

The show was bold, too; the show’s depiction of an interracial marriage and one of the first on-screen pregnancies challenged what was deemed acceptable to show on television. Despite Lucy and Ricky’s idyllic relationship, however, married life for stars Ball and Arnaz was much less picturesque, and the couple’s personal and professional conflicts are brought to light in Aaron Sorkin’s biographical drama “Being the Ricardos.”

Following a turbulent week in Ball (Nicole Kidman) and Arnaz’s (Javier Bardem) lives, “Being the Ricardos” captures the couple in a fight against network television. They implore CBS to allow the show to include Ball’s pregnancy, clearing scandalous accusations against the leading lady for being a communist and quarreling over suspicions of Arnaz’s infidelity — all the while producing and perfecting an episode of “I Love Lucy.” 

The plot of the film is very tense, but the presentation dampens its gravity. “Being the Ricardos” contains too many unclear and confusing time jumps, drawing the audience’s attention away from the drama. 

Adding to the confusion, the film includes scripted “interviews” with “I Love Lucy” executive producer Jess Oppenheimer (John Rubinstein) and writers Madelyn Pugh (Linda Lavin) and Bob Carroll Jr. (Ronny Cox), who provide commentary on the events of the film decades later. These interviews, however, do not take place in the present day and must be performed because the real-life crew members have passed away. These interspersed, artificial interviews create the illusion of a documentary — a questionable creative choice that only takes viewers out of the main narrative.

The strange jumps through time and space hinder the buildup of tension, and the writing throughout the film is never able to evoke as much emotion or suspense as it tries to. Yet, there are undeniably creative successes in “Being the Ricardos.” The film includes accurate recreations of “I Love Lucy” scenes, which are utilized when cast and crew describe episodes or when Ball visualizes and critiques scripts. These charming recreations remind audiences about the real show behind the film. They invite viewers to pay closer attention to the creative process and are purely lots of fun to watch.

Kidman’s performance as Ball — and by extension, Lucy — is captivating. She wonderfully captures the essence of Lucy’s character with remarkable likeness and portrays Ball’s stresses and heartbreaks during that difficult week with powerful and realistic emotion. Kidman brings to life a side of Ball much less familiar to television audiences than her bubbly on-screen persona: her confidence and boldness behind the scenes. 

Kidman’s Ball fiercely critiques her show’s writing and directing, naturally taking charge and constantly making her voice heard. Her performance reminds viewers of the hard work and dedication behind the comparably cheerful sitcom and garners renewed respect for Ball as an artist and studio executive.

Although a bit convoluted and somewhat hard to follow, “Being the Ricardos” tells the turbulent behind-the-scenes story of “I Love Lucy” and offers a new perspective on Ball and Arnaz’s famed sitcom. The film is certainly a worthwhile watch for old fans of the Ricardos — certainly interesting and, at the very least, warmly nostalgic.

Contact Joy Diamond at [email protected].