Biopic ‘Being the Ricardos’ Review (Remembering the Ricardos Part 1 of 2)

Alice Oscura, Featured Writer


Plot: America’s favourite love match, Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) and Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem) find themselves having to navigate through troubled waters while they simultaneously prepare for the weekly filming of their hit television series, I Love Lucy.

Review: Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin (Molly’s Game, The Trial of the Chicago 7), Being the Ricardos is a biographical drama film that highlights the complex business and intimate relationship between America’s favourite redhead, actress Lucille Ball, and Cuban bandleader Desi Arnaz. The film covers what would be a typical workweek at their studio, as a behind-the-scenes perspective while preparations are being made for the live filming of a weekly episode of the I Love Lucy series.

Lucy is played by another well-loved redhead, Nicole Kidman, who really knocks it out of the park with this one. Being a huge fan of not only the I Love Lucy series but also of the talented comedienne Lucille Ball and Cuban playboy, Desi Arnaz, caused me to pay extra attention to this one. Although the historical timeline for the real-life events depicted in the film is not correct, Sorkin thought that it would be great to mash them all together to add to the dramatic flair.

Being the Ricardos highlights three climatic events in the lives of the beloved couple. It begins with the influential newspaper gossip columnist and radio commentator Walter Winchell dropping a bombshell at the end of one of his radio programs by asking the public a provocative question, “What top redheaded television comedian has been confronted with her membership in the Communist Party?” This would be the beginning of Lucille Ball’s brush with what came to be known as The Red Scare.

For those of you who don’t know the Red Scare was associated with the frenzy and paranoia from the Cold War. It was the persistent fear and suspicion that Communists had been successfully implanted and infiltrated into key positions of American society. One such key area was Hollywood via their celebrities. Many celebrities from the Golden Hollywood era became victims of the Red Scare and eventually had their careers literally destroyed. A committee simply called the HUAC, House of Un-American Activities Committee was set up to conduct these interviews and deem whether or not the suspected persons were a threat to American society.


While the actress did sign the Communist Party Card, she did so to please her beloved grandfather Fred Ball who was an avid supporter of the working man. She did it intending to never vote or even go to any political meetings (she never did). However, in true Hollywood fashion, all the dirt and juicy gossip are dug up from the depths and now the public was being told the story from the angle of media sensationalism. As a side note, I will be covering Arnaz’s emotional reaction to communism in my upcoming review of Amy Poehler’s documentary Lucy and Desi.

Whilst having to deal with the possibility that her adoring fans might turn against her, Lucy has to confront studio executives and show sponsors with the fact that she was pregnant with the couple’s second child. Husband and wife both agreed that it should not be hidden as was normally done because it was taboo to show a pregnant woman on national television or even mention the word “pregnant”. Normally a pregnant actress would be disguised or hidden behind furniture or a massive newspaper or filmed from different angles.

The show achieved a historical landmark by becoming the first tv show to show a woman being pregnant on national television even though the words “pregnant” or “pregnancy” are never used. The actual title of the episode where Lucy Ricardo reveals to her husband that she is pregnant was titled “Lucy Is Enceinte”. Enceinte is the French word for expecting a baby.

Lastly, are the articles written by the Hollywood tabloid Confidential titled “Desi’s Wild Night Out” and “Does Desi Really Love Lucy?” The published articles began to raise Ball’s suspicion about her husband’s infidelity. The film is shot in a fake documentary style with interviews from three of the head writers for the I Love Lucy show, Jess Oppenheimer (who also served as producer), Madelyn Pugh, and Bob Carroll Jr. complete with flashbacks of the preparations involved while getting ready for the weekly live audience recording of the episode titled “Fred and Ethel Fight”.

The comedic duo’s real-life daughter, Lucie Arnaz Luckinball, was even consulted and gave her permission for the representation of her mother’s strict and sometimes overly taxing work ethic, which branded her as being difficult to work with. Ball made the weekly stunts and escapades of Lucy Ricardo look so effortless onscreen but in reality, the actress was constantly stressed out about whether or not the scenarios were believably funny to the audience down to the finest detail. The added stress made Ball even more desperate to pay attention to the little details and Kidman’s portrayal is definitely Oscar-worthy.

On the other hand, I do believe that Spanish actor Javier Bardem as Desi Arnaz was a bit of a misfire. While Bardem is indeed a strong actor, his heavy European-styled Spanish accent pulled me out and the chemistry seemed a bit forced and not as passionate as it should be. The Latino accent is drastically different, so it was a great distraction for me while watching the film. Bardem however does successfully get accolades for his performance of Arnaz’s popular song “Babalu” while playing his iconic instrument the bongo drum. He was able to capture Arnaz’s mannerisms and body language during the sequence eerily enough to give you the chills!

Nina Arianda (Amazon’s Goliath series) also stars Vivian Vance, the actress who plays Lucy Ricardo’s landlady, neighbour, and best friend Ethel Mertz in the I Love Lucy series. Vance and Ball were great friends in real-life, so much so that after I Love Lucy ended and Lucille divorced Desi, Vance starred in another series with Ball called The Lucy Show as two single mothers that try to raise their kids on their own while living together and getting into some comedic situations.

However, there was some contention behind the scenes between the actresses that was captured here in the film with regards to Ball not wanting Vance to lose too much weight because she wanted Ethel Mertz’s character to have a certain look. It was speculated for many years that she didn’t want Vance to steal some of Lucy’s thunder so to speak because the character would always have a more glamourous wardrobe than Ethel’s despite the character being the landlady and being married to an ex-vaudevillian.


Actor J.K. Simmons has always had the most distinctive way of portraying his characters and as William “Bill” Frawley, the actor who played Ethel’s husband Fred Mertz, he’s a brilliant fit. Vance and Frawley despised each other in real-life but mildly tolerated one another due to the success of the show. The actor himself was a bit difficult to work with and was known to be a bit cantankerous as well as an alcoholic. He was the oldest of the cast members and Simmons portrayed Frawley as having a bit of a gruff, fatherly disposition with Ball when he notices that the actress was struggling to cope with the weight of everything.

Some complaints have been made regarding Kidman’s use of minimal prosthetics to adjust the appearance of her nose and chin for her to look more authentic as actress Lucille Ball. Critics have stated that it is a bit too distracting, but I am inclined not to agree with that. The actress does have wider set features when compared to Kidman’s and it is much appreciated that there were no CGI effects used to achieve her final look. If the makeup did its part to help inspire Kidman to give such a stellar performance, then I say kudos to her.

The underlying story behind the main plot seems to be the desperation of Ball to constantly try to save her marriage by finding ways to stroke Desi’s great Latino ego. The result, however, is not great, and it ends by Ball confirming that Arnaz was in fact fooling around with hookers. Desi Arnaz’s contributions to network television are phenomenal despite his playboy reputation. He was portrayed as a hard worker and the biggest supporter of Lucille Ball as not only an actress but as a business partner.

In closing, Being the Ricardos is a dramatic tribute to the work behind the I Love Lucy series and all of the blood, sweat, and tears that went into getting ready to film before a live audience. It also explores the passionate and tumultuous relationship between one of Hollywood’s most beloved couples. If you are a fan of either the show or of Ball and Arnaz, you are going to want to give this one more than a glance. The film currently has three Golden Globe nominations including Bardem for Best Actor, Kidman for Best Actress, and Best Screenplay. Being the Ricardos is currently available for viewing on Amazon Prime Video.

Alice’s Score: 7 out of 10

Are you fan of I Love Lucy? Will be checking out this biopic? Sound off in the comments. And you check out more great biopic content below:


Dark Alice has an old soul and a curious mind. I believe that anyone can be a hero and that the good guys should always win! I dislike cruelty to animals and think that they have far superior qualities to humans. My motto is there is no future without the past. I also have a weird penchant for Paranormal TV shows even though the slightest sound makes me jump. I enjoy writing reviews and throwing in fun facts to pique the readers’ curiosity. My ultimate goal in life would be to become a published writer one day. Read More