When she co-hosted the Oscars recently, Amy Schumer “took a swing at Aaron Sorkin’s Being The Ricardos, the Nicole Kidman-Javier Bardem film about Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. ‘Aaron Sorkin: a genius! Truly, right? I mean, the innovation to make a movie about Lucille Ball without even a moment that’s funny? Not your fault, Nicole.'”
But Sorkin was not making a comedy. “This is no more a comedy than the ‘King of Comedy’ or ‘Joker’ is a comedy.”
I read all of this after I saw the movie, which I watched just before the Oscars. The harsh criticism I’d read about how Nicole’s face was stiff whereas Lucy’s was rubbery had made me wary about even viewing it.
I should note that I’m a big fan of Ball and Arnaz. It’s less about the I Love Lucy series, which of course I had seen many times. It was more about WHY I was able to watch it over and over. Desilu essentially invented the rerun at a time when the general perception was “We already saw that episode. Why would we watch it AGAIN?”
I’m enough of a devotee that our family stopped at the Lucy-Desi Museum in Jamestown, NY in 2016, which was very much worth visiting. We bought the I Love Lucy DVD box set there, which my daughter has watched in its entirety. Also, in 2019, I read her autobiography, Love, Lucy. It was written in 1964, but not published until 1996, after both Desi and Lucy had died.
The vision thing
So I think that Sorkin achieved what he was going for, although he consolidated certain elements that took place over a few weeks into one week of shooting an episode of I Love Lucy. We see the Red Scare stuff, discussed in her book; this has to do with her grandfather, who helped raise her. The couple wanted to include Lucille’s pregnancy in I Love Lucy, but the network and sponsors thought it was a terrible idea; we now know how it turned into comedy gold.
Was Desi unfaithful to Lucille? The bitter relationship between Vivian Vance (Nina Arianda) and the much older William Frawley (J. K. Simmons), who played the neighbors Ethel and Fred Mertz, was on full display. We see the plan to fatten up Ethel/Vivian.
Ultimately, I mostly enjoyed it. There’s latitude in the biopic genre that I allow for. I do agree with the assessment by Ken Levine that the writers on the show were perhaps treated more shabbily than necessary.
The film received The Women Film Critics Circle Awards’ Hall of Shame “For taking a beloved female icon and turning her intelligence, talent, and work ethic against her as a harping shrew, and the deeply flawed men around her as downtrodden male saviors.” I think this is a bit harsh. Lucille Ball was one tough woman.
Bardem, Kidman, and Simmons were all nominated for Oscars, though they did not win. Kidman did get the Golden Globe, though no one cares anymore. I was actually most intrigued by the performance of Nina Arianda’s Viv. About 2/3s of the critics liked Being The Ricardos.
If you are looking for great recreations of I Love Lucy bits, this is not the film for you. If not, you might like it.