'Being the Ricardos' review: Peeling back the curtain on 'I Love Lucy'

Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem star in Aaron Sorkin's look at a particularly crazy week in the life of the classic sitcom.

Lindsey Bahn
Associated Press

If things had gone according to plan, Lucille Ball would have been a major movie star.

Instead, she had to settle for being the queen of television comedy for over 25 years. Not exactly a lousy alternative. But the new film “Being the Ricardos” does make one wonder if Ball may have had a few other successful careers, like director (and not just of her own show) had she been born just a few years later.

Javier Bardem and Nicole Kidman in "Being the Ricardos."

In Aaron Sorkin’s loving and sharp dramatization of a particularly fraught week during the making of “I Love Lucy,” Ball, as played by Nicole Kidman, is painted as serious and shrewd, someone who can visualize a scene and the audience reaction to it on the first read of a script.

Though Ball was a famous perfectionist, in “Being the Ricardos” we are catching her at a heightened and stressful moment in which a few major life moments coalesce on top of the everyday burdens of trying to put together an episode by the Friday taping. Not only is she worried about her husband’s fidelity (Javier Bardem plays Desi Arnaz) and convincing the network and prudish sponsors to let her be pregnant on the show, she’s also being accused of being a Communist which could be the end of “I Love Lucy.” So naturally she diverts her attention to a dinner scene that’s not working.

“Being the Ricardos” really shines in the wings, with the depiction of the tireless writers (Alia Shawkat as Madelyn Pugh and Jake Lacy as Bob Carroll Jr.), the hangdog showrunner (Tony Hale as Jess Oppenheimer) and the bickering supporting players (Nina Arianda, transcendent as Vivian Vance and J.K. Simmons as William Frawley). It may not be the most pleasant environment, but it is romantic in that classic Hollywood way — full of ego, banter, barbs and breakthroughs that, for better or worse, you’d never get on a Zoom call.

Sorkin bites off a lot here — he wants this film to be about everything. And the dialogue is so typically snappy that he basically gets away with it.

And it all would have been perfectly fine without the Communist subplot, but that’s just there to help all the other dramatic revelations come out. “Being the Ricardos” is a Sorkin event through and through and an earnest, smart picture of a complex woman and, like her show, it all goes down so smoothly you barely even get a chance to appreciate the labor behind it.

'Being the Ricardos'


Rated R: for language

Running time: 125 minutes

On Amazon Prime Video