CROSS THE STREAMS: BEING THE RICARDOS
Written by Tony Schultz on January 31, 2022
For generations we have been blessed with the comedy of Lucille Ball. I say it that way because whether you watched it when it first graced prime time television or grew up watching it in syndication on an afternoon after school you know who she is. There are families that still share the show “I Love Lucy” with their kids. The physical comedy and easy to follow sitcom still can make you laugh with classic bits like the chocolate factory assembly line, stomping grapes, or Vetavitavegamin said endlessly. It still inspires shows to this day and can be seen in the fabric of their writing. Don’t believe me? Check out the episode of “Schitt’s Creek” where Moira does an add for a local winery at the end. Sure, Lucy isn’t as well known by today’s generation, but if they do any amount of research into past entertainment or trends they will come across “I Love Lucy” as the hit show of their grandparents’ generation. For me, when Lucy came on it meant that soap operas were done for the weekday and that cartoons were on in about a half hour. I thought it was funny and interesting and was in black and white which meant that it was made so long ago that I thought my parents grew up without anything in color. To put it in perspective it would be similar to a 10 year old kid today watching reruns of “Rosanne” from 30 years ago. Does that make you feel old? It was so smoothly written that I really never paid attention to Desi Arnaz’s accent or the fact that Fred looked 40 years older than Ethel. It is a classic from The Golden Age of Television and was one of the best sitcoms ever produced so everything must have been perfect for them. As we all learned later things were not perfect with the couple America all loved.
“Being The Ricardos” on Amazon Prime puts a spotlight on not just the successes of Lucy, played by Nicole Kidman and Desi, played by Javier Bardem, but the hardships they dealt with in their careers. Granted it is encapsulated into a week of their life as they find out whether their next show will actually air, and not drawn out in a timeline. Some people are having an issue with this aspect, but it is an interesting way to make it look more like you’re watching a one act play or an episode of the show itself. In fact, the movie starts out like a documentary, but the people being interviewed are actually actors playing real life people. It took me a second to realize that Linda Lavin (Alice) and Ronny Cox (Beverly Hills Cop) were playing real life people. Doing some research, writer and director Aaron Sorkin did most of this just to move the narrative along. All of the problems that Lucy and Desi had were strung out over the years of their relationship. The use of flashbacks to show how their relationship blossomed, and the behind the scenes of how much Lucy and Desi both made decisions that drove their success are very well done. In a time when women were not in the seat of power basically anywhere we get a close look at a couple that see each other as equals and even Lucy being the most powerful person in the room. Kidman captures Lucille Ball’s personality that we didn’t see in her behind the scenes life. Most were surprised by her casting initially to play the icon, but she played it marvelously with her voice having that low level gravel that Lucy was known for. They only had glimpses of her playing the Lucy we all have seen on screen, and even those were great impressions. Bardem was also spectacular as Desi. Arnaz also had a boyish look to him and Bardem is a bit more rugged looking, but he pulled it off. It’s great when they put great actors in roles and they help you forget what you are used to seeing. The actor that steals the show is J.K. Simmons as William Fraley who played Fred Mertz in the show. Seeing a bit more of his relationship with Vivian Vance/Ethel Martz, played by Nina Arianda and that it was somewhat mirrored in their performances was interesting and that he was a gruff man who had a heart of gold.
This movie is definitely aimed at a generation that loved these iconic characters or an audience looking for a good history lesson. Most of Gen Z isn’t going to even know who these people are and Gen X will check it out for the nostalgia factor. It gives us a different perspective of these people and how things really were in those days. Knowing that this is a condensed timeline does kind of give it the feel that they wanted to tell the story quickly and then be done with it, but I feel that’s what gives it some extra life. We don’t have to reinvest in characters or people we already know, but we just get to have the missing pieces filled in. If you pay for Amazon Prime then you can see “Being The Ricardos” for free and learn a bit more about how they dealt with the trials and successes of being the most famous people in Hollywood.