Being the Ricardos

Let's get this out of the way: Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem, decent actors both, are distractingly miscast as Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in writer/director Aaron Sorkin's docudrama about a week in the life of the hit 1950s sitcom I Love Lucy. They don't look like their real-life counterparts, they don't move like them, they don't convince us of Ball's and Arnaz's comic gifts or chemistry, and they're just too old.

If you can get past all that, you will have a good time with Being the Ricardos. It's got Sorkin's trademark snappy patter and reminds us that an episode of I Love Lucy didn't just appear out of thin air, with four goofy actors being funny in front of the camera – it was the work of fragile egos and clashing agendas that miraculously came together each week to entertain millions of unwitting Americans.

Sorkin takes creative liberties by combining three landmark behind-the-scenes chapters of Lucy history into one hectic week: when Ball was accused of being a member of the Communist party, after an old voter registration card of hers popped up in the press; when Ball and Arnaz desired to work Ball's real-life pregnancy into their sitcom, a no-no at the time; and when a tabloid article hinted at Arnaz having an extramarital affair. All of this happened, but not at the same time. Still, Sorkin makes us believe that calamities like these were all in a week's work on Lucy.

If Kidman and Bardem have a hard time passing as their famous characters, Nina Arianda and J.K. Simmons are exceptionally well-cast as Vivian Vance and William Frawley, the antagonistic duo who portrayed Lucy and Ricky Ricardo's best friends Fred and Ethel Mertz. Arianda and Simmons are two of the best actors working today, and it's always a pleasure to watch them. The only brown egg that Sorkin lays is his decision to frame the proceedings with phony "interviews" set in the 1980s, with three behind-the-scenes Lucy creatives giving us story details from the perspective of their old age. (Linda Lavin, who headlined her own long-running sitcom Alice, plays the older version of Alia Shawkat's writer Madelyn Pugh.) It's a clumsy narrative device. Sorkin should have thought of a better way to deliver his exposition.

That said, Being the Ricardos is engaging if inconsequential entertainment. And since it's an Amazon Studios production about the making of a TV show, you should have no qualms about watching this movie on the small screen.