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“Being the Ricardos”–Making America Great Again

Academy-Award nominated Being the Ricardos  (2021) opens in the  the year 1939 with a handsome 22-year old Cuban singer named Desi Arnaz (played by Javier Bardem), touring the country with his orchestra.  After Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) and Desi fall in love and marry, Desi continues to have modest success on tour while Lucille struggles with bit parts in low-budget films. 

After ten years trying to breakthrough to stardom, Lucille turns to radio, and with “My Favorite Husband”,  finds a popular medium for her comic timing.  CBS asks her to continue the show on television, renaming the program “I Love Lucy”. Premiering in 1951, at Lucille’s insistence, Desi assumes the role of her TV husband.  At the peak of its popularity, over 60 million viewers are enamored with the weekly comedy.  “I Love Lucy” also coincides with McCarthyism and Lucille Ball admits she supports Communism, while Desi does not.

After the first broadcast of the  “I Love Lucy” , the series has become an icon of popular culture for over half a century. In those early years of television, the rules for comedy were still being established. And Lucille Ball oversaw and wrote many of the most famous scenes–on the factory assembly line, the dining room bickering, the wine-crushing vats.  But beyond “I Love Lucy’s” considerable influence on future comedians and television in general is an inarguable truth: “I Love Lucy” is timeless in its humor and subtly subversive for the 1950s.

There are two main reasons for watching Being the Ricardos:  1) Nicole Kidman channels Lucille Ball in appearance and voice.  Her performance is no less than astounding. Kidman continues to demonstrate a remarkable ability to make us share her character’s feelings.  2) The 1950s are shown in unsettling  details, some mirroring the puritanical values of The Handmaid’s Tale.  In one scene Lucille Ball, who has become pregnant, is determined to win the fight with corporate executives to show that pregnancy is not to be censored as obscene.  The management, not accustomed to their position being challenged–much less by a woman–are forced to relent.

Being the Ricardos is not a memorable film, but this pandemic is replete with marginal movies and television series.  The pace is slow with superficial interviews with co-workers, fellow actors, and friends of the Ricardos.  The result is disruptive and drags the main story:  the marriage and professional life of  Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.  Yet Being the Ricardos is  revealing as it encapsulates the  historical details of which many viewers are unaware.  The 1950s were by no means glory days–and this movie indicates some of the period’s underbelly.  For that reason alone, Being the Ricardos is worth watching.

Availability: Amazon Prime

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