Capturing the essence of the iconic television show “I Love Lucy” and its stars, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, is a task not many would dare to tackle.
Yet the new film “Being the Ricardos” does just that. In the skillful hands of writer/director Aaron Sorkin and strong work from a talented cast – headlined by Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem – this entertaining peek behind the curtains is an effective snapshot of the golden age of television and the icons that helped shape that era.
Instead of opting for a straight biography, Sorkin narrows the story down to a tumultuous week in the run of the “I Love Lucy” series where the pressure of the show was just a sample of what was going on in the lives of Ball and Arnaz.
Ball (Kidman) is questioning her marriage with Arnaz (Bardem) after a tabloid runs a story suggesting he is sleeping with other women. Ball is also under scrutiny when her name is presented to the government during the height of the Red Scare. The couple are trying to navigate through both scandals while working on the week’s episode.
While most of the film takes place during this one week in 1952, Sorkin uses flashbacks to flesh out Ball and Arnaz’s romance and documentary-style interviews with writers and executives to paint a broader picture of what was going on behind the scenes.
There is a lot for audiences to take in during the film’s 125 minutes, but Sorkin threads the needle with a razor-sharp script and strong direction that really is enhanced by his background in television. This is a world Sorkin is very familiar with from his time working on “The West Wing.” That background gives “Ricardos” an authenticity that only enhances the film, adding a layer of realism that only strengthens the project.
The script sizzles with the kind of dialogue that Sorkin has created in films like “The Social Network” and “Trial of the Chicago 7” with a very talented cast that brings the rat-tat-tat wordplay to life.
Nina Arianda, J.K. Simmons and Alia Shawkat are among the supporting cast who really shine, but it’s Kidman and Bardem who bring the heart and soul to “Ricardos.”
Kidman really embodies the spirit of Ball, showing the actress as a determined perfectionist who saw comedy in ways that not many before or since have. Kidman deserves credit for her willingness to play Ball and how she delivers a performance that is worthy of Ball’s genius.
But it’s Bardem as Arnaz who steals the movie. He is captivating as a larger-than-life entertainer that demands the audience’s attention every moment he is on screen. In a year that is shaping up to be loaded with potential best actor nominees, Bardem is firmly entrenched in the race with some of his best work since “No Country For Old Men.”
Bardem is worth the price of admission alone, but “Being the Ricardos” brings even more to the table. It may not be the quintessential biography that fans of Ball were hoping for, but it’s an entertaining film that provides a glimpse into what it was like to be the iconic actress – and her equally iconic co-star/husband.