In Review

Film review: Being the Ricardos

Nicole Kidman stars as comedy legend Lucille Ball

Sixty million Americans tuned into the sitcom I Love Lucy during its run from 1951 to 1957, said Brian Viner in the Daily Mail. If it passed you by, Being the Ricardos “may not tempt” – but it’s sure to “enthral” fans. A “compelling” study of the relationship between the show’s stars, the legendary Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) and her Cuban husband Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem), the film unfolds over the course of one tumultuous week in the run-up to the broadcast of a live episode. 

The film is full of “rat-a-tat wit”, as you’d expect from writer-director Aaron Sorkin, the creator of The West Wing, said Robbie Collin in The Daily Telegraph; but sadly, Being the Ricardos doesn’t offer much else. The film crunches three crises that happened in real life into one week: Ball is pregnant, “at a time when the word ‘pregnant’ can’t even be said on TV”; a magazine is reporting that Arnaz has been unfaithful; and rumours are swirling that Ball is a communist – no small matter, during the McCarthy era. Yet the plot advances at a “treacly crawl”, as the mounting panic in the present is interspersed with flashbacks fleshing out Ball’s professional past. Kidman’s presence doesn’t help. Her casting was controversial, because she looks so little like Ball; but in trying to cover up that problem, with clever make-up and prosthetics, the producers have created a new one – a star who no longer looks herself, and who exudes “deepfake creepiness”.  

Ultimately the film doesn’t really “function as a biopic”, said Clarisse Loughrey in The Independent. Sorkin isn’t interested in “deepening our understanding of who Ball and Arnaz were”. He has always been more interested in words than ideas, and his film is best seen as a drama about the “mechanics of comedy writing”.

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