‘Being the Ricardos’ is an intriguing, uneven acting showcase

No need to venture out to see Aaron Sorkin's Lucille Ball/Desi Arnaz flick in a theater, but it’s definitely worth streaming at home

Brad Keefe
"Being the Ricardos"

First, the good news: This review contains ZERO spoilers for “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”

The week’s big theatrical release wasn’t screened for Columbus critics, so let me turn my attention to a movie that hit theaters last weekend and starts streaming on Prime on Dec. 21.

Aaron Sorkin’s “Being the Ricardos” is a classic “Oscar bait” movie based on its pedigree and cast; it landed three Golden Globe nominations this week.

Yet the overall critical consensus on it has been “good not great,” which is just about right from where I sit. It’s the kind of movie I normally would have told friends they could wait to see at home. That’s normally not two weeks later, and it’s an easy recommendation for Prime viewers who just have to hit play to watch it a few days from now.

“Being the Ricardos” is written and directed by Sorkin, and you’ll have little doubt about that. It has his signature rapid-fire dialogue and no director to steer him away from some of his impulses.

It’s not as good as Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7” from last year, but no less dense or ambitious, and that ambition should count for something.

Sorkin chose to tell the story of Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) and Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem) framed around a gossip column piece that accused TV’s beloved Lucy of being a member of the Communist Party during both the height of her show’s success and America’s “red scare.”

It also examines the roots of Lucy and Desi’s romance through the lens of a strained marriage in a moment when their show was the sort of television phenomenon that hasn’t really been seen since. Everyone really did love “I Love Lucy,” and the red letter of communism threatened more than just their careers.

The movie also dives behind the scenes of the show as the stars and castmates (J.K. Simmons and Nina Arianda as Fred and Ethel) grapple with the pressures — and jealousies — of maintaining a runaway hit.

And Sorkin, always a writer, also romanticizes the writers’ room with Alia Shawkat and Jake Lacy as mostly friendly rival writers.

In an interesting (if uneven) device, Sorkin also intersperses documentary-style interviews with writers and other behind-the-scenes players in the show.

One thing is certain: This is a real acting showcase all around.

Kidman’s casting was met with backlash, but it’s one of her strongest performances yet. She captures Lucille Ball’s mannerisms, yes, but more than that, she captures her as a perfecting creative force who maintained fierce control of both her persona and her show in a male-dominated industry.

Bardem and Simmons are great, but when aren’t they? It’s Broadway star Arianda who delivers the most jaw-dropping supporting turn, though.

Sorkin finds interesting turns down every rabbit hole, but he’s probably guilty of exploring a few too many for the movie to feel focused. That said, I was most surprised by how interesting the workings of 1950s television were.

As for the Oscar bait, it’s more likely to land where it did with the Golden Globes: acting categories and best screenplay (which may be a stretch).

So the recommendation is pretty easy at this point. No need to venture out to see this in a theater, but it’s definitely worth hitting play in a few days from the comfort of your couch.

“Being the Ricardos”
Now in theaters, streaming Dec. 21 on Prime
3 stars out of 5