Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem lead a stellar ensemble in Aaron Sorkin’s riveting depiction of television history’s most famous couple. Being the Ricardos takes place during a tumultuous week in the life of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. At the peak of I Love Lucy’s success, the superstar couple were faced with a crisis that could have destroyed their livelihood. Being the Ricardos is a fascinating exploration of their complex relationship, keen business acumen, and the show’s fiery production conflicts.
In 1952, Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) had finally attained the stardom she had dreamed about as a child. She and her husband, Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem), had the most popular television program in the country. Sixty million people watched I Love Lucy on a weekly basis. Desilu, their production company, transformed the way a live action program was filmed and transmitted to East Coast audiences. The couple had reached the pinnacle of success. But a dire threat was taking aim at the entertainment industry. The House Un-American Activities Committee brought the “Red Scare” to Hollywood.
Being the Ricardos begins with Lucy raging at tabloid coverage of Desi’s late night cavorting. Her anger turns to distress when the radio blares an announcement that America’s sweetheart, Lucille Ball, was a registered Communist. CBS executives call a panicked emergency meeting. The charismatic, but stern Desi tells the brass not to worry. No national newspapers had picked up the radio story. They should continue with the show as normal. Tension reaches a fever pitch as the couple, their co-stars (J.K. Simmons, Nina Arianda), executive producer (Tony Hale), head writer (Alia Shawkat), and episode director (Christopher Denham) continually butt heads. They were sitting on a ticking bomb. Everything they had all worked so hard for was in grave danger.
Being the Ricardos is told in a quasi-documentary format. Older actors portray the writers and executive producer as they narrate the events of the Red Scare. The film then flashes back to how Lucy and Desi first met, the show’s creation, and their efforts to stop her from being branded as a Communist. Lucy and Desi worked well together as professionals, presented a united front, but argued constantly in their personal life. Their dominant personalities required everyone around them to tread lightly. The interplay between the cast is brilliantly staged and executed. Oscar winning screenwriter and director Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men, The Social Network) is in top form here. His blistering dialogue and rapid fire pacing makes every scene compelling.
Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem portray Lucy and Desi as the Ricardos on TV, then pull back the curtain to reveal who they really were as sophisticated people. Lucille Ball prided herself on being intelligent. It bothered her tremendously that Lucy Ricardo was thought of as a buffoon. An excellent subplot has her battling the writers and director about the extent of Lucy’s silliness. Desi Arnaz was a supremely talented singer and musician who made all of the couple’s business decisions. His contributions to the show were minimalized. His Cuban heritage was mocked and devalued in the racist fifties. Nicola Kidman and Javier Bardem deliver incredible, nuanced performances. They will be heavyweight contenders for every lead acting award.
Being the Ricardos is a great film across the board. It’s richly dramatic, but also funny and endearing during pivotal moments. The significant talents in front and behind the camera brought their best. The acting, direction,and writing are superb. Being the Ricardos is a production of Amazon Studios. It will have a theatrical release on December 10th, followed by a global streaming premiere December 21st on Prime Video.