Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem In Aaron Sorkin Pic – Deadline

Taking on the story of the marriage of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz would seem to be a project full of landmines. After all, this pair was starring in a legendary sitcom, I Love Lucy, that was watched by a mind-boggling 60 million people a week. Ball was perhaps the most famous face on the planet. When it was announced that writer-director Aaron Sorkin was cooking up a movie about Lucy, the internet already had its own ideas of what it should be — and who should play her. Fortunately, Sorkin himself knew exactly what it should be and has made a heartfelt, fascinating and altogether riveting but loving look at the near-20-year relationship and marriage of this iconic couple that, for lack of a better word, simply nails it.


The structure Sorkin has come up with in order to cover the waterfront of the Arnaz-Ball union is ingenious itself. Setting the movie around a week in the life of the production of I Love Lucy, Sorkin uses dramatic license to weave in and out some very significant moments in their lives, primarily the little-known fact that Lucy made blazing headlines in the mid-’50s when it was revealed she had (innocently) registered to vote in the 30’s under the Communist Party affiliation. That traumatic news event is merged with a Confidential magazine cover story titled “Does Desi Really Love Lucy” that more than intimated Arnaz was having an affair. Then Sorkin throws in the revelation to network execs that Lucy is pregnant, and they have decided to make that pregnancy a storyline on the actual series — something unheard-of subject matter-wise for the timid 1950s.

All of this actually did happen. It just didn’t all occur in the same week, but the device of anchoring momentous events in their marriage this way really does work brilliantly. Sorkin also employs flashbacks to their meeting and courtship on the set of 1940’s Too Many Girls, essentially as well as other earlier moments between them in a movie that is a drama about a couple making the world laugh, while all the time things were happening to them that were no laughing matter at all. Sorkin skillfully, and with biting dialogue worthy of Paddy Chayefsky, strikes the perfect tone between the Lucy and Desi we only think we know better as Lucy and Ricky, but he really zeroes in what was going on behind the scenes of perhaps the most famous sitcom of all time — one that is still seen around the globe to this day.

What makes it work as well as it does is something dead-on casting choices, beginning with a luminous performance from Nicole Kidman, who has called this the hardest role of a career riddled with risky acting choices, but none like this. Playing Lucille Ball not only in re-creating some famous moments like the grape-stomping scene in a classic I Love Lucy episode as Lucy Ricardo, but mostly as Ball herself trying desperately to find a way to keep her marriage together. This is where Kidman gives us the essence of the real star and delivers a stunning turn through all of it. It is a high-wire act that no other actor even has attempted to this degree in playing another icon of the business.

Equally good is Spanish star Javier Bardem going Cuban to play Arnaz, showing not just what we know of his Ricky Ricardo but also the man who really loves Lucy but is in a relationship that is hard to keep together. Bardem plays the congas, guitar, and sings with the genuine onstage spirit of Desi Arnaz but also shows a really smart man with a strong business sense (he created the three-camera process for shooting sitcoms that’s still used today, as well as running Desilu and launching shows like The Twilight Zone, The Untouchables, Star Trek and Mission: Impossible. Kidman and Bardem are magic together in this film.

The supporting cast could not be more on the money, notably J.K. Simmons as William Frawley and Nina Arianda as Vivian Vance, both in their onscreen personas as Fred and Ethel Mertz and, more poignantly, as two co-stars who really did not like each other off camera. Alia Shawkat is especially good as Madelyn Pugh, the rare female comedy writer at that time, and Tony Hale is superb as Jess Oppenheimer, producer and head writer of the series. Jake Lacy scores points as Pugh’s writing partner Bob Carroll Jr. Among those who act as “witnesses” to tell the story of Lucy and Desi is a perfectly cast Linda Lavin, who starred in the well-remembered CBS sitcom, Alice. That Sorkin device of having older versions of those involved such as Lavin’s Madelyn Pugh really works well.

‘Being The Ricardos’ Trailer: First Extended Look At Nicole Kidman & Javier Bardem As ‘I Love Lucy’ Legends

Production-wise the recreation of the period, notably the making of the 50’s sitcom, but the whole ambiance of 20 years in the life of this relationship is beautifully realized with superb cinematography from Jeff Cronenweth, production design from Jon Hutman, and a lovely score from Daniel Pemberton. This is all a remarkably fine effort from Sorkin, who on top of my favorite film of 2020 The Trial of the Chicago 7, here proves his chops as a director are just as impressive as his work as one of the best writers ever. Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal, and Steve Tisch are producers. Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz Jr. have credits as Executive Producers and clearly gave Sorkin the keys to the kingdom in uncovering not just the good times, but also some very dark moments in a show business marriage like no other.

Check out my video review with scenes from the film at the link above. Amazon Studios releases it in theatres this Friday and begins streaming on December 21. Do you plan to see Being the Ricardos? Let us know what you think.

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