Aaron Sorkin’s “Being the Ricardos,” which deals with a pivotal week in the life of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, has not been a critical success. As of this writing, it has a 69 percent favorable rating at rottentomatoes.com.
That does not mean it isn’t worth watching. It opens in theaters on Dec. 10 and starts streaming on Amazon Prime Video on Dec. 21.
Anyone who has seen “I Love Lucy” will find much to mull in “Being the Ricardos” — from the comedic genius of Ball to the business acumen of Arnaz and the constant behind-the-scenes battling between Fred (William Frawley) and Ethel Mertz (Vivian Vance), played brilliantly by J.K. Simmons and Nina Arianda.
Sorkin, who’s known for his rat-a-tat dialogue and who won an Oscar for writing “The Social Network,” crafts his screenplay about a surprising moment in “I Love Lucy” history when radio personality Walter Winchell accused Ball of being a Communist. It comes amid Ball’s suspicions of Arnaz’s extramarital affairs as well as the news that Ball is pregnant — and wants to play her character as pregnant on the show — a first for national TV.
All of this doesn’t go over well with the conservative sponsors of the hit CBS show, Philip Morris. And yes, everyone seems to be smoking throughout “Being the Ricardos,” although press notes stress that the cigarettes were herbal and not toxic.
Throughout the movie, Sorkin uses flashbacks to show the whirlwind courtship and marriage of Ball and Arnaz, as well as reveal Ball’s turbulent childhood, with an important uncle who supported workers’ rights as well as the Communist Party.
The movie wouldn’t work without the standout performances of Nicole Kidman as Lucy and Javier Bardem as Desi Arnaz. For Kidman, it’s a particular challenge, because she has to play Ball one way off-camera and yet another on-camera. One is a shrewd genius in a passionate love affair, while the other is physically funny and ditzy.
The movie also re-creates some of the most famous scenes from the TV series, including the famous grape-stomping disaster in Italy.
But at no times does the movie reduce Ball or Arnaz to caricatures, and at no time are Kidman and Bardem doing facile imitations. They bring their own interpretations, which was a wise strategy by Sorkin.
Sorkin also takes us behind the scenes of how “I Love Lucy” was written. Tony Hale, who’s best known as Buster Bluth on “Arrested Development,” plays producer and head writer Jess Oppenheimer. Other writing team members include Alia Shawkat as Madelyn Pugh and Jake Lacy as Bob Carroll Jr.
The battles between Ball and the writing team are notable, with lots of talk about comedic timing, logic and respect for the audience. Imagine that.
It also should be noted about that there are two special people listed among the executive producers for “Being the Ricardos.” They are Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz Jr.