Arts & Leisure

Didn’t quite become “Ricardos”

NICOLE KIDMAN and Javier Bardem star in “Becoming the Ricardos” (Amazon Studios).

By Jim Tortolano

Here’s the problem with “Becoming the Ricardos,” the otherwise admirable new film from Amazon Studios by Aaron Sorkin.

The people most likely to appreciate a movie about the making of the legendary “I Love Lucy” TV show of the Fifties – Baby Boomers and older – are those most likely to see the gaps between the series and the motion picture.

Nicole Kidman (as Lucille Ball) and Javier Bardem (Desi Arnaz) do their best with an excellent script that gives us an interesting inside look at the dynamics and personalities behind the show, but it’s not always easy to accept them as Lucy and Ricky.

Bardem is the biggest reach. He’s best remembered as the serial killer in “No Country For Old Men,” topped by the worst haircut in cinema history outside of the Three Stooges. His bulk and demeanor don’t quite line up with the suave, peppy Desi we saw on the black-and-white 10-inch screens of the Eisenhower era.

Kidman is more credible as Lucille Ball, especially once you accept that the real Lucy Ball was more brainy and less madcap than Lucy Ricardo, it’s easier to say, “Ok, close enough.”

Frankly, the second half of the film goes more smoothly for one struggling with the visual dissonance. Much is revealed about the technical innovations of the show and Lucy’s skirmish over once having signed up as a Communist (simply as a tribute to her beloved lefty grandfather is her explanation) and the ultimately doomed marriage between two strong personalities – one who can’t keep her lips zipped and one who can’t keep his zipper zipped.

The relationship between the Ricardos and their friends – Nina Arianda playing Vivian Vance as Ethel Mertz and J.K. Simmons as William Frawley as Fred Mertz – offers another view that’s refreshing. If, for example, Lucille Ball was such a strong woman, why did Lucy Ricardo so often break down into tears, bawling, “Oh, Ricky, I’m so sorry!”

“I Love Lucy” was a peak in TV comedy, but what followed in Ball’s career was one long – if profitable – slide toward irrelevance. She kept playing the same role over and over, one pratfall and wacky scheme after another. She was good at what she did, but never did it as well as she did with Desi. The “lightning in a bottle” could never be recaptured.

The same could be said – kindly – about this movie and the people and events it depicts.

“Becoming the Ricardos” is rated R for language and some sexuality. In theaters and streaming on Amazon Prime.


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