Being the Ricardos (2021)
Writer/director Aaron Sorkin has a fondness for biopics. Since his own piece of television history ‘The West Wing’ came to an end in 2006, he has dramatized the lives of Charlie Wilson, Mark Zuckerberg, Billy Beane, Steve Jobs, Molly Bloom and the Chicago 7. For Being the Ricardos, he resorts to the standard biopic trope of using an interview (in this case several) to provide context for this look at the production of an ‘I Love Lucy’ episode. From the outset we are assured by the interviewees that this was a particularly scary week.
On the eve of the first readthrough, Lucille Ball is branded a Communist by Walter Winchell. Given the resultant uncertainty of the show’s future, she decides to hold off announcing her pregnancy. Vivian Vance shows no such restraint. Tired of being depicted as the frumpy housewife opposite an actor more than twenty years her senior, Vance slims down her figure and spruces up her wardrobe. Remaining steadfast by Lucille's side, husband Desi stares down nervous television executives and sponsors, despite an expose of his off-set behaviour threatening to derail everything.
Sorkin’s prowess as a writer is more evident here than his burgeoning directorial skills. Confined in its set-up, the biopic’s timeframe is nevertheless extended by interviewees delving into Lucy and Desi’s past while script meetings include snapshots of future ‘I Love Lucy’ episodes. Unfortunately the execution can be a bit heavy-handed and the whole enterprise seems to drag on longer than it should. The groundwork for the emotional final minutes is writ large throughout the film but is muted by the surrounding noise.
Yet it is the howls of derision over Kidman’s casting that should be drowned out by her fine performance. Granted, there are times when she struggles in her valiant attempts at mimicking Lucy. The voice is right, but the gestures seem off, recalling Kidman’s previous attempt at comedy as a malfunctioning ‘Stepford Wife’. However these recreations of ‘I Love Lucy’ only account for a fraction of this biopic, and Kidman was not cast as Lucy Ricardo. She was cast as Lucille Ball, and in this role she excels.
Complementing Kidman is a excellent Javier Bardem as the underrated Arnaz. Though his fidelity may call into question the title of the famed sitcom, Desi's loyalty to his wife confirms that he truly did love Lucy.
as Lucille Ball
as Desi Arnaz
as Vivian Vance
as William Frawley
Significant events covered in biopic did not occur concurrently:
The ‘Fred and Ethel Fight’ episode of ‘ I Love Lucy’ was aired on March 10th , 1952
Desi Arnaz Jr was born on January 19, 1953
Walter Winchell announced that Lucille Ball was a Communist on September 6th, 1953, on the eve of the ‘I Love Lucy’ episode ‘The Girls Go Into Business’.
The Confidential magazine article about Desi Arnaz was published in January 1955.
Apart from the several recreations of ‘I Love Lucy’, biopic also features some behind the scenes action from Arnaz’s debut film Too Many Girls.