Writer / director Aaron Sorkin takes a heaping helping of artistic liberties in “Being the Ricardos,” his biopic about one week in the personal and professional life of 1950s television superstar Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) and her husband, Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem).
The film takes a handful of true events that actually happened during the first few seasons of I Love Lucy and crams them into seven stressful days in both the professional and personal lives of the beloved couple. From figuring out how to incorporate Lucy’s pregnancy on air (a groundbreaking statement that was considered a cultural taboo at the time), to dealing with Desi’s rumored infidelity, to very serious political smears and accusations of Lucy being a Communist, the pair face stressors that bring them to the breaking point.
The limited focus of Sorkin’s story serves the film well, and he incorporates a ton of behind-the-scenes drama for Lucy and Desi. The film jumps between their professional and personal relationships, taking viewers into the writer’s room, onto the soundstage, an into the most intimate conversations that take place behind closed doors. It’s a revealing, reimagined look at what was going on at the time, exploring the creative process and power struggles.
Sorkin tells part of his story using a faux documentary format, which is a misguided gimmick that is very distracting. It simply doesn’t work and slows down the movie, as does the very brief retelling of the beginning of Desi and Lucy’s romance. This isn’t a traditional biopic, and fans expecting otherwise may feel disappointed.
Stepping into the role of one of America’s most beloved comedic actors isn’t an easy thing to do, and Kidman gives a terrific performance, even if it’s difficult to truly picture her as Ball. The same goes for Bardem, who has the right amount of charisma as Desi, but it still feels like the leads are not well cast. The supporting players (Nina Arianda, Alia Shawkat, J.K. Simmons, and Tony Hale) are examples of near-perfect casting, however. None of performances feel like copycat caricatures, which is a welcome (and often rare) thing in biographical films.
While it does not provide a complete picture of the lives of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, “Being the Ricardos” takes a few true incidents and combines them into a compelling story, and Sorkin does it well. His writing is well-suited for material like this, where his knack for agile dialogue and rewriting history can shine.
By: Louisa Moore