Many individuals like myself have come to love and enjoy the antics of Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance, and William Frawley in the series I Love Lucy (1951). What is so magical about the series is that the lovely couple, Lucille and Desi, were in fact married to one another outside of the show. This popular couple in the 1950s seemed to have it all, or at least that is what all the pretty pictures would have had you believe. Being the Ricardos provides an extraordinary, if at times confusing, chance to peer into the lives of Lucille and Desi as they face challenges that could have ended their careers and their marriage.
Director and writer Aaron Sorkin collects top actors for this film. Big names like Javier Bardem, Nicole Kidman, J.K.Simmons, and Nina Arianda all give stellar performances. For a more authentic touch to the film, it is worth mentioning that Lucy and Desi’s children, Desi Arnaz Jr. and Lucie Arnaz, are both credited as being executive producers.
The film starts off with fabricated interviews with staff members Bob Carroll Jr., Madelyn Pugh, and Jess Oppenheimer. The questions that the interviewees are asked are never heard, but the audience can understand what the questions are based on their responses. The answers to these questions set the framework for the reimagining of the interactions between the Ricardos.
When the audience is introduced to Lucille Ball (Kidman) and Desi Arnaz (Bardem), they are in the midst of a passionate fight that slowly transforms into lovemaking. Their sexual interaction is interrupted by a radio programing by Walter Winchell who states that “Lucille Ball is a communist.” All that this accusation meant completely unnerves her, and thus the roughest week of their lives commences. The accusation comes during the filming of Episode 4, Season 2, a classic and enjoyable chapter in the series.
What the film reveals, that might be the most shocking for anyone who is not versed in this dynamic couples’ lives, is that Lucille had endured many personal and public hardships, including a few cultural conflicts, a political campaign against her, and even a few relationship battles that were and still are heartbreaking to watch. The number of infractions that stood between Desi and Lucille were numerous. Infidelity, a brief dance with communism, and a few creative differences with the script were all in play in that one week the film covers. Despite all this, their attempt to be a family was at the core of what this film depicts.
The film carefully outlines their joyful moments, but often falls shy of clearly stating when events took place. In one scene, the couple is well established into their relationship when a flashback is brought up halfway in — when Lucille was negotiating for I Love Lucy, and insisted her husband play her husband on the show. The people in charge were against greenlighting a Cuban actor. The time slip is a little clumsy and does require a rewatch in order to get exactly when they are together working on the show and when they are performing other projects separately.
Being the Ricardos doesn’t pull its punches when it comes to the cultural issues that arose. In a straightforward manner, the movie illustrates the challenges that Lucille had being a woman in show business and having a Latino husband. These topics are explored more and offer nuance that really shows how much Lucille cared for Desi. Being the Ricardos is a standalone smash, where every line, frame, and emotion hits all the right notes.
It’s easy to see why Being the Ricardos is an instant tearjerker. The characters are rough, passionate, and misunderstood. Javier Bardem delivers a performance that is both artful and cruel to the point of being irredeemable. Still, if you hang on long enough, you’ll also find the funniest, most well-crafted, and most complicated portrayals of one of the most beautiful love stories. Bardem plays Desi with pluckiness and shrewdness that not many other actors could achieve.
This film has it all: drama, betrayal, passion. It even has a few hilarious moments. When Kidman and Arianda (playing Vivian Vance as Ethel) and J.K. Simmons (playing William Frawley as Fred) on the show reenact the dinner scene in Season 2, Episode 4, both of them fall off the seat. I defy anyone to tell me that their acting is not deserving, at minimum, of one hundred and two Oscars.
Being the Ricardos is such a passionate portrayal of an affectionate couple. What was most admirable about them is that both Lucille and Desi looked perfect from the outside. All their hopes and dreams came alive in an hour and a half. What they had was messy and complicated, but it was real. Two real-life people, with all their flaws, somehow manage to become something more. While it was an insightful look at a Hollywood couple, their relationship was anything but picture perfect.
Being the Ricardos is streaming on Prime Video.
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Donnie Lopez is a gay Latino/Hispanic social and political commentator, writer, entertainment journalist, and professor. He writes on topics that affect Hispanic/Latino culture. With his novel insight, veracity, and sense of humor, he entertains as well as educates the world.