Being The Ricardos On Prime Video Is The I Love Lucy Movie We Needed
The importance to television of I Love Lucy, Lucille Ball, and Desi Arnaz cannot be overstated. From inventing the modern-style sitcom to inventing camera rigs to inventing reruns, they changed the game in a big way. The new Prime Video movie written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, Being the Ricardos is the I Love Lucy movie these historical figures deserved for a long time. Outside of a play and a TV-Movie-of-the-Week, the story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz has only been told by tabloids and biographers.
We’ll get into the factual accuracy of the story below, but on its face this film captures everything important about their story. Lucy as both a domineering force in a male-dominated business who also cared about ‘regular folks’ and workers. The dark days of the House Un-American Activities witch hunt and how Lucy got caught up in it. There is also the fact that as much he did ‘love Lucy,’ Desi Arnaz was notoriously unfaithful. I went into this film knowing all this already, and yet I felt compelled to watch it all play out. The performances of Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem in the title roles should make all of us (myself included) who lamented their casting feel like a bunch of silly, stupid geese.
The bulk of Being the Ricardos takes place over a week of shooting I Love Lucy, yet there are flashbacks to her movie and radio career. The focus is all on the characters’ relationships, and it makes these larger-than-life figures all too human. After a short run in theaters, Being the Ricardos is now on Prime Video and is definitely worth your streaming time. There are going to be spoilers, because this is history, and we knew how the movie ended when it was announced.
Should We Talk About Aaron Sorkin? We Should. Should We Walk? No, We’re an Article.
Image via Masterclass.com
As a writer and director, Aaron Sorkin is a bit of a polarizing figure. Whether you like his ‘musical wordplay’ style or not, there is no denying the man knows his way around a script. Yet, more so than perhaps anything he’s done, this film cannot be in his voice. Yet, it gets close. As with all “Based on a True Story” films, this is not the definitive historical record of this time. Sorkin especially worships at the altar of drama and the ideal that the goal of all fiction is to tell a lie that tells the truth. We’re glad Prime Video believed in Being the Ricardos, which languished in movie development hell since 2015. Because while factually inaccurate in a lot of ways, this Prime movie feels like it tells the truth about I Love Lucy in an unvarnished but loving way.
The bit of dialogue from the actual show that gets the most attention in the movie feels a little Sorkin-y. Much is made of the opening joke, but really the dialogue that stuck with me were the lines setting up the premise of the episode. Fred and Ethel are fighting, so Lucy invited them both to dinner to force them to make up. Ricky, as per usual, wants Lucy to mind her own business and let their friends work out their trouble on their own. There’s wordplay humor with the use of “whom” by Ricky, and the kind of back-and-forth banter Sorkin loves to employ between characters in love.
Never gonna be able to watch this episode again but fun fact Lucille ball fought for this episode and it's also what being the ricardos os based off pic.twitter.com/mx5YiixmCf
— Rachizia ミ☆ (@Gagasfilm) December 24, 2021
Sorkin puts his distinctive authorial voice in everything he writes. Yet, for anyone who looked a television in the back half of the 20th Century, they’re at least familiar with the unique voices of both Lucy and Desi. Luckily, the two styles fit together surprisingly well.
The Factual Accuracy of Being the Ricardos on Prime
Image by Glen Wilson via Amazon Studios
All of the things that happen in this movie really happened. Lucy was a domineering force on the set shaping every episode meticulously. Lucy and Desi had a passionate but tumultuous marriage that ended in divorce because of infidelity. Ball was also investigated for her ties to the Communist Party, and Desi risked it all by coming clean with the audience before a taping of the show. Though, he did not have J. Edgar Hoover on the phone to clear her name. He did it all with his charm and wit. “The only thing red about Lucy is her hair, and even that’s not legitimate,” Desi famous said. He did reference his experiences in Cuba and their mutual love of America in that speech.
Also, it didn’t all happen in the same week. Prime example, the episode of I Love Lucy in the movie was filmed long before Lucy’s HUAC testimony. Rather than “Fred and Ethel Fight,” it was the third season episode “The Girls Go Into Business” where Desi made his speech. (I am also certain that Lucy did not pin down Desi’s infidelity in the seconds after he did this.) Also, that episode was the 22nd of the series, occurring much earlier than the movie says it does. (Also, the TV commercial episode, referenced a few times, was filmed later in the run.)
Despite being friends and lifelong collaborators, Vivian Vance did resent being frumped up and married to a man 22 years her senior on the show. Personally, I hope Vance and Frawley’s tension was as it is depicted, tempered with mutual respect. Yet, things may have been more acerbic on the set in real life. Lastly, Lucy and Desi did have to get religious leader approval for the pregnancy storyline. Also instead of “pregnant” the actors could only say Lucy was “expecting.” Also, the set in Being the Ricardos was the apartment they had after Little Ricky was born on the series.
How Being the Ricardos Serves I Love Lucy and Movie Drama
Image via Amazon Studios
Sorkin has said that the core of all of his stories can be summed up by “Intention versus obstacle.” The characters have an intention and the obstacle in their way serves up the drama. However, in this movie, he ratchets up the drama to an intense degree by combining I Love Lucy problems with Lucy and Desi’s problems. It works because we know that the show goes on to even greater success. Yet, Lucy and Desi were not so lucky on a personal level. Kidman and Bardem both deliver stunning emotional performances in the end of the film. We’re reveling in their success and are immediately forced to face the failure of their marriage. My favorite line in the picture comes from Kidman’s Lucy, as she describes this tragedy on the set of the show.
“It’s like a story you’d read a little girl. A witch puts a curse on a woman. She’ll be adored by the man she loves, but only as long as she stays on this patch of ground.” This scene features Nina Arianda as the spitfire Vivian Vance and J.K. Simmons as a perfect William Frawley. And, as Lucy talks about in her monologue, it kills. As much as Sorkin blended facts for drama, that Lucy’s career-making role was tied to the heartbreak of her failing marriage is all true.
— Kitty (@KittyFormanlove) December 25, 2021
Still, Being the Ricardos is a love-letter to I Love Lucy, (which streams on Paramount+ but there are select episodes on Prime Video, too). We recognize Lucille Ball as a genius today, but back then she was just a woman everyone worked with. Yet, Sorkin uses a great motif to show Lucy visualizing the physical comedy bits and knowing on instinct what works and what doesn’t.
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz Are Giants In Comedy and Television Production
Image via Viacom CBS
We know that Desilu, the company the pair formed to produce their show for CBS, revolutionized television. The film highlights, though skipping the details, how Desi Arnaz helped to develop both a revolutionary camera design and technique to record and rebroadcast episodes. Later, Lucille Ball gave us Star Trek and Mission: Impossible and countless other television classics. She had a keen mind for what entertainment would work and often believed in projects that other executives might not have. Still, for the purposes of the film, Lucy is relegated to just being talent and Desi’s wife. A key subplot of the film shows Lucy trying to balance this professional acumen without hurting Desi’s ego.
As a comedic pair, Lucy and Desi were perfect. Lucy’s antics and mix of silliness and savvy stood as the perfect foil to Ricky’s simultaneous innocence and patriarchal desire to control. Let’s not forget that more than a few episodes ended with Ricky putting Lucy over his knee and spanking her bottom like a child. (Though an argument can be made that this was a bit of kinky subversive rebellion, but that’s a topic for another time.) Being the Ricardos instead focuses on the famous story of how Desi and Lucy had to fight to depict Ball’s real-life pregnancy on the show. They were two passionate, sexual people trying to tell a story about a marriage in the puritanical 1950s.
Still, regardless of their personal circumstances, these two figures are impressive pioneers in the age of television.
You can watch the definitive I Love Lucy movie Being the Ricardos on Prime Video.
What did you think of the Being the Ricardos movie, and did you watch in theaters or on Prime? What’s your favorite I Love Lucy episode, sketch, memory, or legend? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Featured image via Amazon Studios
Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.