Young or old, no matter the age, the phrase “Lucy I’m Home” is easily the most recognizable line of comedic dialogue spoken in sitcom history. You don’t have to be a fan of the show I Love Lucy either to understand how much weight 3 words hold over its fans. Paired with the classically framed black and white color palette, the show is iconic. But the show isn’t what it is today without it’s dynamite red headed star Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) and her fiery talented Cuban husband Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem).
Let’s be honest, Bardem is fantastic as Desi/Ricky Ricardo, but this is Nicole Kidman’s film – she owns the screen in the same vein Lucille did. Kidman instantly captures the essence of Lucille from her voice inflection to the iconic hairstyle and wardrobe. Don’t let Bardem fool you either, his exquisite charm can transition to intimidation with the snap of a finger. Safe to say, the casting of these two iconic sitcom stars is perfect – right down to their energetic chemistry together. I honestly believed I spent 2 hours with the real-life stars, not two actors playing them.
Add Aaron Sorkin to the mix as writer/director. Known for his dialogue heavy tension building screenplays, Being the Ricardos doesn’t have the steady increase of tension built up over the course of the film we know so well. Tension is still there but when it happens to crescendo however, its saved for the right moments when the film hits like a ton of bricks with pay offs. Being the Ricardos takes place over a week’s time prepping for an episode while a tumultuous couple of bombs get dropped in the form of scandal that rock the couple to their core. Ball is accused of being a communist while Desi gets caught cheating on his loyal wife and partner.
While the film focuses mostly on the present during that hellish week of production, Sorkin’s screenplay takes us back to the past where Lucille and Desi meet, fall in love and get their big break. I didn’t mind the back and forth of past and present especially since the I missed the show by a generation or two. Seeing their introduction to how they end up made perfect sense for the story being told to establish where the couple ends up by the time Sorkin wraps everything up in a bow. The only time I would come across I Love Lucy was late night on the TV Land channel and even then, it didn’t pique my interest (I was a teenager I had other things I’d rather watch).
But even though I’m going into Being the Ricardos with zero context and prior knowledge, the genius of these two people that changed sitcoms landed with me as I’m sure it will land with anyone who watches this film. Especially given the era of television that they thrived in. A powerful woman, a Cuban immigrant and all the executives at CBS and Phillip Morris bend to their will – and for good measure.
Lucille is a perfectionist – she’s able to see the scenes they read about at the table reads in her head and imagine the laughs. If something about the production doesn’t feel right, Lucy will let it fester in her brain until it works out at the detest of writers Madelyn Pugh (Alia Shawkat), Bob Carroll (Jake Lacy) and executive producer/showrunner Jess Oppenheimer (Tony Hale). Even co-stars William Frawley (J. K. Simmons) and Vivian Vance (Nina Arianda) take notice of Lucy’s need for control and perfection. Lucy has all week to become funny while Desi uses no effort.
The film loses its steam when the focus isn’t on Lucy or Desi. Thats not to say the supporting cast isn’t talented in their roles, top to bottom talent is all over this cast, the film just loses its energy when Kidman and or Bardem are absent from a scene.
Being the Ricardos is bursting with energy – not only from Kidman and Bardem but from the production design and the vintage aesthetic that’s recreated to bring I Love Lucy back to life. Cutting to black and white makes the authenticity Sorkin was going for stand out in contrast to the present day. When Lucille can see the performance nothing else matters – the accusations of her being a communist and Desi’s consistent lying and cheating. Lucy pleads with Jess to save their marriage but, the show only prolonged the death of the show and their marriage. I Love Lucy wouldn’t work if the two weren’t on the same page, able to block out all the outside noise and distraction together. Desi believed in Lucy and her incredible talent for comedy and acting, he admired her more than himself and even though he’s a serial cheater he stuck up for her. Their love, passion and partnership bleeds off Sorkin’s script that runs a hair too long causing the pacing to be slightly off in the execution.
Being the Ricardos is a perfect narrative for Sorkin to sink his teeth into. Full of his signature dialogue heavy character’s that we know and love from A Few Good Men to Moneyball and The Social Network. Though it may not be a courtroom drama, Being the Ricardos is dramatic enough. Their lives are complicated, but Lucy and Desi always found a way to make I Love Lucy the #1 show in syndicated television history. Kidman absolutely transforms into Lucille Ball and steals the movie among her talented co-stars and on-screen husband Javier Bardem. A hair too long with mismatched pacing keep Sorkin’s third directed feature from being utterly bulletproof.
Written By: Aaron Sorkin
Directed By: Aaron Sorkin
Music By: Daniel Pemberton
Cinematography: Jeff Cronenweth
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem, J. K. Simmons, Nina Arianda, Tony Hale, Alia Shawkat, Jake Lacy, Clark Gregg
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime
Release Date: December 10, 2021
Running Time: 2 Hours 5 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 69%
My Score: 3.5 out of 5