I Love (Lucy) The Ricardos

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Amazon Studios has released BEING THE RICARDOS Written and Directed by Aaron Sorkin, Starring Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem, Jake Lacy, J.K. Simmons, Nina Arianda, Tony Hale, and Alia Shawkat. It opened in theaters December 10, 2021 and will be released Globally on Prime Video starting December 21st, 2021

To this day when you think of Lucille Ball a picture of her immediately pops into your head. You don’t need to search google for her likeness, it’s in your memory. So strong and iconic is the impression she’s left on televisions landscape. Still these many years later, Lucille Ball is the standard for many actors in the field of comedy. Her show I Love Lucy seems to run in perpetuity around the world. It’s little wonder that Nicole Kidman was nervous and unsure if she would be able to effectively bring the legend to life on screen. I saw the movie and 10 minutes in I thought, “She’s going to win an Oscar for this.”

Official poster

In fact, this film is going to be nominated in several categories, it’s that good. From top to bottom it’s easily one of the best movies of the year. Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, The Social Network, The Newsroom), this bio picture is different than others I’ve seen. It focuses on a tumultuous week in the lives of Lucy and Desi on their show. We go behind the curtain and get a look at what it took to make the show the massive hit that it was. There are also moments where the film takes a documentary feel when Sorkin interviews the actual individuals who worked on the show and were friends of Lucy and Desi. It’s an ingenious device, the interviews lead us into important events in Lucy’s life. Watching this film, it’s quite clear that Lucy was a woman of great determination. She knew exactly what she wanted and would not take no for an answer, also an absolute genius at her craft. Take the famous stomping grapes bit. In the movie there is a discussion of the episode, this moment in particular, and we see Lucy begin to work it out in her head, how will it play out, and when I say for a minute, I thought I was looking at the original, Nicole is that good. This movie gives us a glimpse of the Lucy we don’t see. The calculated business woman with a knack for getting everything she wants. Everything except a good marriage.

Desi Arnez is played by Oscar winner Javier Bardem. He easily captures the essence of who Desi was. The charm and wit as well as the highly intelligent business man. He sings and plays the bongos, most importantly he is very supportive of his wife. Before this film I had little knowledge of how savvy Desi was when it came to the show. He basically was the showrunner and executive producer while Lucy would concentrate on the specifics of the comedy within each episode. They sound like a perfect team and in many ways they were. But back then, and still today, perception of weakness for a man is a problem. Desi was no different. On set, Lucy ran things. She would challenge the directors, change scenes, impose her will on the show. All without including Desi in the process, not saying she necessarily had to. It was her show, its success or failure rested on her shoulders. Nonetheless, it was a point of contention between the two. Although, in the movie Desi does not directly address this. It is the actor who plays William Frawley (J.K. Simmions), Fred on the show, who informs Lucy of this. Which leads to a pivotal moment where Lucy asks for help to “save her marriage”.

The cast also includes the aforementioned J.K. Simmons (Whiplash, Goliath, Spider-Man) and Nina Arianda (Goliath, Billions, Richard Jewel) as Vivian Vance who played Ethel. J.K. plays William as a foul mouth curmudgeon, who misses the old vaudeville days. He and Ethel constantly bicker about politics and just about anything else that comes up. Ethel on the other hand is a sympathetic figure. She and Lucy had a very complicated relationship. Here she is on the biggest show in America, but she was always the brunt of jokes about her weight and looks. When she would try to make a change such as a flattering dress or losing weight, she was met with disapproval from Lucy who felt that it didn’t fit the character.

Hanging over the movie and the country, itself, was communism. The suggestion that someone was a communist could destroy a career, even a life. Lucy had been called before Senator Joe McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee to give testimony. Was there something in her present or past that could ruin her and Desi’s lives? Actors and creatives were very outspoken against McCarthyism and all the committee need do is hint that Lucy was a communist and lives would be ruined. Not just Lucy and Desi’s, but everyone associated with the show as well.

What I found most revelatory was that Lucy never thought the show would be successful. She just wanted to be able to spend time with her husband. At the time Desi was doing a lot of touring and the two spent very little time together. She desperately wanted a “home”, which for her meant somewhere where she and Desi were together. For a time, she found that on the set of I love Lucy, which is equal parts beautiful and sad. Because no show lasts forever…and neither did their marriage. Lucy filed for divorce the day after the show ended.

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Photos are courtesy of BEING THE RICARDOS

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