Some filmmaker, at some point in time, will make a great film about the lives of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, because this one was a miss. That’s not to say that it’s bad, because it isn’t. It’s just not great. And the reasons for that seem to be endless.
The biggest thing Being the Ricardo’s has going against it is its casting. From the moment the casting was announced, it was questioned by fans and critics alike. Nicole Kidman portrays the iconic Ball while wearing frightening facial prosthetics. Javier Bardem portrays Desi Arnaz, without really looking or even sounding like him. It was all very uncanny valley. The one good remark I have in regard to Kidman’s performance is that she nails the role, vocally. If I shut my eyes, I would buy that it’s Lucille Ball that I hear talking. Except, that is, whenever Kidman’s Australian accent peaks out, as it always does when she uses an American accent. In a shocking turn of events, Javier Bardem was clearly too old to be playing Desi Arnaz, who was younger than Lucy in real life during their marriage, which was a point of contention at the time. On top of all that, Kidman and Bardem lack the chemistry needed for this role and it shows.
J.K. Simmons as William Frawley was another casting choice that felt incredibly odd. Simmons tries his best to imitate Frawley’s mannerisms, but without some additional padding on the usually thin actor, it’s not very believable. The only good casting choice made by this production was to cast Nina Arianda as Vivian Vance. She portrayed the rumored frustration of Vance well, while still having chemistry with Kidman to make the friendship between Ball and Vance believable.
It’s interesting to me that writer and director Aaron Sorkin chose to tell the story of the discovery that Lucille Ball was a registered member of the Communist party. That, according to Sorkin, was the same week Lucy found out Desi was cheating on her and that she was pregnant. How true that all is, I’m not quite sure. Regardless, I feel like there were better, more complete stories to tell about the Queen of Comedy and her legacy. For instance, a love story fully focused on the tumultuous, passionate relationship between Ball and Arnaz would have been an interesting story to tell. Having the most heightened moment of Being the Ricardos be wondering if the audience will clap for Lucy after the “communism scare” is pointless. We all know that she’ll be applauded. The show was only in it’s second season. Characters repeatedly said that throughout the film. It’s fairly common knowledge that I Love Lucy went on for more than two seasons. Therefore, it just takes away any suspense that the viewer has, which makes it silly to have as the central plot point.
But, that’s not the only problem with the writing. The timelines are not clear, especially if you’re watching the film with no other knowledge of Ball and Arnaz’s real life. There’s no clear visual style to differentiate from before I Love Lucy and during, which can make it hard to follow along. Not to mention, the film is then introduced with a documentary style. The format of the film becomes a jumbled mess. Like Sorkin couldn’t quite decide how he wanted to direct the film so he just did a little bit of everything and hoped it would work.
Again, I don’t think the film is bad. I think the actors did the best with what they were given. I think some recasting and some rewrites would have done the film well. Maybe shift the story focus. If I were to be the one to recast the film (yeah, in my dreams), I’m not sure who I’d cast as William Frawley, but I know that I would keep Nina Arianda as Vivian and cast Debra Messing as Lucille Ball and Oscar Isaac as Desi Arnaz. Even the age differences nearly match up. Given that they would have chemistry, those two actors would knock it out of the park.
It truly is a shame that the film was not better because they really had chance to knock it out of the park.