Early Oscars Round-Up: Being the Ricardos
Over the course of a week in 1952, life changes for America’s favorite couple, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. When rumors of infidelity in the media, accusations about Ball’s involvement in the Communist Party, and the early days of the couple’s second pregnancy collide, the set of I Love Lucy becomes a tumultuous terrain that even a seasoned veteran like Ball struggles to navigate.
History and fiction meeting at the intersection of recognizable celebrity is the perfect recipe for reliable Oscar bait. Being the Ricardos, the latest project from writer/director Aaron Sorkin, pulls back the comic veneer of Lucille Ball and shows us what made her tick. From an actress who fled the Ziegfield Follies in New York City to the woman who conquered sitcoms and created reruns, Ball and her Cuban husband and acting partner, Desi Arnaz, changed the landscape of Hollywood.
Let’s start with the elephant in the room. Everyone knows that Nicole Kidman looks nothing like Lucille Ball. She lacks the elasticity and range of emotion that Ball brought to every role. Kidman herself even considered stepping away from the role after receiving criticism about her portrayal of the beloved American icon. But, at the end of the day, she made the role her own and deserves the Best Actress nomination that she’ll eventually receive. We see a side of Ball that many people didn’t know existed. A shrewd businesswoman, a conniving star, and a person who knew their worth and valued their place in the world. While the performance fell flat in some parts, Kidman created a version of Ball that is discerning, devastating, and ultimately, beautifully broken.
What would I Love Lucy be without Lucy’s faithful cast of characters? Javier Bardem, while a fantastic actor, didn’t bring the charm that is so synonymous with Desi Arnaz. Looking markedly older and wearier, he failed to separate the philandering husband that Arnaz was in private from the vibrant and loving partner that he played on screen. J.K. Simmons and Nina Arianda shine as William Frawley and Vivian Vance. With palpable tension, both on- and off-screen, the drunken Frawley is locked in constant combat with Vance, who longs to be more than the frumpy neighbor, Ethel Mertz. While Arianda is the standout here, the sheer amount of recognition this film will receive pushes the odds in Simmons’ favor for a Best Supporting Actor nom.
From The West Wing to last year’s Trial of the Chicago Seven, Aaron Sorkin’s brand of wit and fast-paced dialogue has been a part of the American milieu for decades. Being the Ricardos is Sorkin embracing his specific oeuvre of Sorkin-iness. Cutting quickly between a fictional documentary, Lucy and Desi’s early years together, and a week of filming in 1952, there’s barely time to breathe in the nearly two-and-a-half hours of screentime. Sorkin is a phenomenal writer, but he needs someone else to direct his work. A third party that is uninvested in his broad strokes would be able to cut some of the bloat, eliminate unnecessary plot points (here, Lucy’s pregnancy), and focus on what matters: the people we love to see on screen, the sitcom America cherishes, and all of the dirty secrets from the backlots and palatial homes of 1950s Hollywood.
Sorkin and his team bottle a moment in time that many people today never got to experience. From the early days of live audience tapings to the raucous characters who graced the screens, Being the Ricardos is less about Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz and more about the time and industry that they lived and worked in. With appearances from Tony Hale and Alia Shawkat as Jess Oppenheimer and Madeline Pugh, spot-on costuming, and a warm, sepia-tinged glow, Sorkin may have created an ideal blend that will go down smooth and easy for every Oscar voter.
What I’d Like to See:
- Best Actress: Nicole Kidman (highly likely)
- Best Original Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin (highly likely)
- Best Director: Aaron Sorkin (likely)
- Best Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons (likely)
- Best Supporting Actress: Nina Arianda (questionable)
- Best Costume Design: Being the Ricardos (likely)
- Best Makeup & Hairstyling (highly likely)
Oscars Probability: 9.5/10 Chesterfield cigarettes
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime Video