Yes, there are other seemingly more fitting actors than Nicole Kidman to portray Lucille Ball in writer-director Aaron Sorkin’s “Being the Ricardos.” Jessica Chastain and Cate Blanchett (who was once linked to the film project) are obvious choices, with Tilda Swinton being my own dark horse candidate. Still, while Kidman does not give a precise impersonation of Lucy, she is a tremendous actor who ably captures Lucy’s spunk and spirit, both on and especially off screen.
The presence of children Desi Arnaz Jr. and Lucie Arnaz as producers betrays what “Being the Ricardos” is: an entertaining yet gauzy hagiography about the marriage and legendary comedy team of Lucy (Kidman) and Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem). Bardem convincingly channels Desi’s Cuban charm, his admiration for his talented wife, and glimpses of his self-indulgence.
The film’s framing device is the week leading up to filming the 1952 episode of “I Love Lucy” titled “Fred and Ethel Fight.” From table reading to rehearsals, we see Lucy’s comic genius and obsessive perfection. She disapproves of the episode’s director, wants to rewrite the episode’s opening, and rousts co-stars Bill Frawley (J. K. Simmons) and Vivian Vance (Nina Arianda) to the set at 3 a.m. to restage a dinner scene. Meanwhile, Desi and the studio heads fret over impending tabloid reports linking Lucy to the communist party. In between, Sorkin intercuts flashbacks to Lucy and Desi’s initial lusty romance, her early acting career, and the advent of their iconic TV sitcom.
As is the case with all Sorkin screenplays, however, the real headliner of “Being the Ricardos” is Sorkin’s circumlocutory script, which is both its own best friend and worst enemy. The dialogue is free-flowing and rarely dull, but even the most mundane moments are elongated into a staccato whir of quips and non sequiturs.
While Sorkin ably hits the highlights of Lucy and Desi’s Wikipedia page, he does not train his formidable scrivener skills on exhaustively explicating the untidy elements of his protagonists’ lives. Desi’s infidelity is only alluded to before being confirmed in the film’s climax, then tossed aside as quickly as it’s revealed. At one point, Lucy begs her long-time producer Jess Oppenheimer (Tony Hale) to “help save my marriage,” but her lament seems incongruous because it isn’t grounded in anything the audience has yet been made privy to.
So, too, with Lucy’s relationships with the irascible Frawley and long-suffering Vance, who tires of playing down to the role of Lucy’s dowdy pal. Still, any tension between them dutifully evaporates in time for a feel-good ending and a bittersweet coda that hints at more interesting events than the ones witnessed.
You won’t necessarily love this Lucy biopic, but it’s a pleasurable primer.
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