Aaron Sorkin’s new film, Being the Ricardos, follows Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) and Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem) through one week in the production of I Love Lucy. But the movie also time-hops to give context to that supposedly pivotal week in their marriage and careers.
The week in question covers one episode of I Love Lucy. But given the time hops, the movie actually partially recreates scenes from three episodes. They are “Fred and Ethel Fight,” “Lucy Tells the Truth” and “Lucy’s Italian Movie.”
In real life, all the stuff the movie depicts – the charges that Ball was a communist, Arnaz’s womanizing, Ball’s pregnancy with Desi Jr. – happened at different points. But the movie squeezes them into one week. That week serves as a sweeping overview of the famous TV couple’s lives.
Being the Ricardos Selected Key Episodes of I Love Lucy
“You see the pressure of a marriage and working together at that time and all of the things that happened being compressed into a week,” Kidman recently told ET of the movie’s scope. “Which is the one dramatic license Aaron Sorkin took.”
Kidman added that the couple’s lives made for “riveting” drama.
Here’s how the filmmakers explained their episode choices. Sorkin told ET he chose the first episode, “Fred and Ethel Fight,” from Season 1, because he wanted to illustrate how Ball was the sharpest comedic mind in the room.
“’Fred and Ethel Fight’ had the most opportunities for Lucy to ask leading questions about what’s going on,” Sorkin explained.
In Season 3’s “Lucy Tells the Truth,” Lucy makes a bet that she can refrain from telling a lie for an entire day. That episode offered an opportunity for juxtaposition. Sorkin contrasts Lucy’s playful gamble with Ball’s deadly serious opportunity to tell the truth about whether or not she was a Communist. In real life, Ball had to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee to testify about the fact that she had once registered to vote as a member of the Communist Party.
Finally, “Lucy’s Italian Movie,” from Season 5, was one of the iconic episodes of the show. Sorkin knew he couldn’t pick all of them – the chocolate factory scene, the Vitameatavegamin commercial, Ricky’s “Babalu” performance. So he went with the classic grape-stomping scene, because Ball had appeared to be having so much fun filming it. (Ball later said a rival grape-stomper nearly killed her while they were filming that scene.)
Early Reviews of Sorkin’s Film Are Mixed
Critics have already weighed in on Being the Ricardos. And the early reviews are mixed. Some reviewers raved about Kidman’s performance. Others found Sorkin’s take on the famous couple “nasty” and “contemptuous.”
The New York Times called the movie “somewhat odd and insistently depoliticized.” It said in Sorkin’s world, Lucy and Desi “come off like nastier, edgier versions of their TV alter egos.” The Gray Lady also accused Sorkin of “cranking the volume to shrill” and introducing ineffective fictional interviews with I Love Lucy writers, adding, “The movie is awfully busy.”
ABC called the movie “astutely clever and captivating,” and lauded the performances, especially in Kidman’s, in glowing terms. But the New Yorker thought the film “revels contemptuously” in Ball’s early struggles to gain a foothold in Hollywood.
Being the Ricardos is clearly an ambitious film. But does it live up to Arnaz and Ball’s genius? Looks like I Love Lucy fans will just have to see the movie for themselves to find out.