Being The Ricardos: A Mostly Compelling Biopic

One of the few things I can’t tolerate in films is when directors intentionally misrepresent history and pass it off as fact. It’s an unfortunate reality that, for many people, the movies are their source of truth. So if a director says ‘it happened this way’, people believe them, even if the record shows otherwise. There’s a fine line between ‘artistic license’ and ‘blatant falsehood’, and it has to be walked carefully.

That said, I was hesitant about Being The Ricardos, which has been both criticized and praised for its historical accuracy by the Arnaz’s adult children. If you’re interested in the details, I’d recommend reading up on it (as opposed to, say, simply taking the director’s word for it…). From what I can tell, the film is accurate where it counts, and the biggest inaccuracy is the timeline. Not all the events happened during the same week, but they did happen at some point, so I’ll give it a pass as artistic license.

With that out of the way… The film is an enjoyable, well-written account of the various scandals that Lucille and Desi faced. Lucille is accused of being a Communist, she’s pregnant, and Desi is reportedly being unfaithful. It’s framed as a ‘week in the life’ story, and during the tumultuous week, the actors are also rehearsing an episode of the show.

Let’s talk about the framing, actually. On paper, the narrative is a ‘week in the life’ story. In my opinion, that structure includes the best moments. Seeing the actors and actresses on set, running lines, discussing how to block the scenes for maximum comic effect, arguing with the writers and director, planning subsequent episodes… That alone would make for a compelling film, and Sorkin does an excellent job of writing quippy, fast-paced, industry-specific dialogue.

Unfortunately, Sorkin decided to expand the scope of the plot beyond that week. Sometimes this works. Adding flashbacks? No problem. Adding present-day interviews with the writers? Eh, it feels a bit out of place. But adding recreated scenes of actual I Love Lucy episodes? Completely unnecessary fan-service.

With more tangents outside of the ‘week in the life’ story, it becomes less clear what the story is supposed to be. Is it a documentary or a biopic? Or is it merely an exercise in recreation? Why do we need to see Nicole Kidman doing a shot-for-shot remake of an I Love Lucy episode that already exists? Why not just splice in the original footage, and limit Kidman to the scenes we don’t already have on film. It feels peripheral, like a marketing ploy to use in the trailers (remember the grape-stomping scene??).

To be fair, the re-enactments highlight one of the film’s greatest strengths: Nicole Kidman. Not surprisingly, her performance is spot-on, perfectly capturing Lucille’s mannerisms, vocal style, on-screen goofiness, and off-screen determination. I’m not sure what all the controversy was about, and frankly I don’t care. She’s phenomenal as always.

Equally impressive is Nina Arianda, who’s a dead ringer for Vivian Vance (the actress who plays Ethel). Sorkin wisely gives her character a good amount of screen time and a complex, memorable side story. The rest of the cast is fine – no surprise, there are some big names. But watching Arianda and Kidman feels like watching unreleased archival footage of the actresses, it’s that good.

As for the actual events… Well, you can’t make this stuff up. Hollywood’s aversion to showing pregnant women is still baffling to me, and the scene where they panic is one of the film’s funniest (people will wonder how women GET pregnant, and we can’t have that!). Equally disheartening was seeing the industry’s opposition to having an interracial marriage on TV – but it’s encouraging to see how far we’ve come since then.

And the drama between Lucille and Desi is powerful, even if Bardem is a bit too gruff to be as convincing as Kidman. Narrative issues aside, it’s their relationship both on and off screen that anchors the film. Coupled with an immersive production design that captures the spirit of a 1950s studio (think Hail Caesar!), the end result is a well-intentioned homage to the iconic couple.