By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
Based on the tumultuous relationship between television sweethearts Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz and a scandal regarding Ball’s political leanings, writer/director Aaron Sorkin depicts a particularly rough week for everyone working on the I Love Lucy sitcom. Sorkin, who is known for his dialogue-heavy scripts, delivers a film that gives audiences a compelling and intimate look at the people behind one of television’s most successful comedies. Though the movie works well as a tension-filled piece, some of the casting choices fail to hit this one out of the park.
Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem star as Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, the big stars of television who endeared audiences with their comedic antics and Arnaz’s musical talents on the I Love Lucy show. On one particular week of production, the producers, sponsors, and talent behind the show are burdened with a political scandal which threatens to destroy and bury the show at a moment’s notice. Early before Lucille Ball became a television phenom, she selected that she was a member of the Communist party on a voter registration card. The US government, particularly the FBI, discovers this “troubling” bit of information and decides to further investigate.
As Lucille, Desi, and the rest of the cast and crew prepare to develop and shoot their latest episode, this controversy looms as a dark cloud which has everyone involved talking. In addition, Ball has her suspicions that her husband Desi has not remained completely faithful to their marriage. To make matters more complicated, Lucille discovers that she is pregnant and everyone involved must also deal with this recent development. During this era of television, pregnancies and the depiction of this fact of life have never been portrayed in any television programs that have preceded I Love Lucy.
While Sorkin’s writing and direction maintain the tension and urgency of the issues that threaten the lives and careers of everyone working on the I Love Lucy show, I feel that both Kidman and Bardem are miscast as the leads. The two actors are obviously giving it their best, but the challenge of making the audiences believe that these are the real people is one that is never truly overcome. While Kidman brings much strength, tenacity, and attitude to her portrayal of Lucille Ball, I was never transcended into believing that she is the actual person.
I feel the same sentiment stronger for Bardem, who also has charisma and actually performs solidly in the musical numbers as Arnaz, but doesn’t at all look like the performer, nor does he sound like him. The exceptions in the film are Nina Arianda and JK Simmons who portray Vivian Vance and Walter Frawley. Both perform very well and more credibly portray their characters as the Ricardo’s friends the Mertzes.
Regardless of my complaints with the casting of the leads, I still enjoyed this movie and felt compelled by the story. I just believe that had the casting department had signed actors who could completely pull off the characters of Lucy and Desi, I would give this movie a higher rating. That said, I still recommend Being the Ricardos, as a rather interesting portrayal of American pop culture history, but one that can be enjoyed in the comfort of one’s home.