Do not watch Being the Ricardos and expect a zany redhead and an even zanier Cuban. Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing) condenses the lives of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz into one week. That compression of time sometimes succeeds, and sometimes fails. Their real story is more than a week from hell (History vs Hollywood). For a film about a comedic couple, Sorkin provides very little comedy. Being the Ricardos is more about fighting off allegations of Communism, grappling with xenophobic and gender stereotypes, and marital infidelity. Yes, you read that correctly. Lucy, America’s favorite comedienne, was investigated by the House Committee on Unamerican Activities.
Accordingly, the tone of Being the Ricardos befits its altered history. Does Desi stray because Lucy’s star outshines his? Will the leaked testimony before the HCUA cause viewers and sponsors to flee? How does the studio deal with her pregnancy? Will the comedy writers ever be able to advance beyond stereotypes? These are not happy times. Later, after their divorce, Lucy would say “the Ricky Ricardo of I Love Lucy was not the Desi Arnaz of our marriage.”
These are extraordinarily talented people with regular everyday problems, perhaps on a different scale. Still, following Lucy from her days a Queen of the B movies, and Desi as a bongo player in a tour band, to the stars of a show watched by 60,000,000 people has its highlights. I give the uneven Being the Ricardos 3.5 Gavels and it receives a 69% Rotten Tomatoes rating with a 6.8/10 IMDb score.
As the story breaks that Lucy was a member of the Communist Party, CBS, Phillip Morris, and Westinghouse executives huddle to discuss the fate of I Love Lucy. While they rehearse, all understand that there may not be a Friday night taping. Just as important to Lucy, once Desi was “rudely attentive, now obnoxiously indifferent.” At one time, CBS could not fathom putting Lucy and Desi on the same show. Now, it can’t foresee the audience accepting a pregnant Lucy. The times, they are a changin’.
Cate Blanchett dropped out. The public wanted Debra Messing. But, the part of Lucy falls to Nicole Kidman (Bombshell). With seven nominations for Best Actress, I’d say she did alright with the critics. At least she does better than Javier Bardem (Dune) who gets only one nomination as Best Actor for Desi. Critics disapprove of a Spaniard playing a Cuban. J.K. Simmons continues to be everywhere as Fred/William Frawley. Fresh off a fantastic turn in Goliath, Nina Arianda stars as Ethel/Vivian Vance.
“George M. Cohen loved America so much, he wrote the same song five times.” Such is the writing of Aaron Sorkin. He loves his thoughts so much that sometimes they get in the way of the story. At times, my notes reflect “this is a real snoozer.” Later, I wrote “why did they make Being the Ricardos.” Thankfully, he salvages the end, but I can understand audience indifference.
“Being the Ricardos is nothing if not ambitious but a frustrating sprawl, what with multiple themes, incessant flashbacks and a faux-documentary framework that feels faux from the very first frames.” Wall Street Journal
“Someone once said that laws are like sausages: It’s better not to see them being made. Sadly, Ricardos makes the same point about comedy.” Washington Post
The fondness with which I remember Lucille Ball places Being the Ricardos in the category of Most Disappointing. Educational, somewhat, but this one is never fun. Would Lucy approve?