Being the Ricardos
Discovering infidelity leads many couples to seek therapy. The road to repair such a betrayal is a painful one that takes patience, commitment and hard work. As a couples’ therapist who believes in the power of prescriptive film-viewing, I often suggest that couples working through the discovery of infidelity watch movies on this topic. The Last Kiss, Away from Her, Maybe He’s Just Not that Into You, Take This Waltz and The One I Love are some of my favorites. Being the Ricardos recently dropped on Amazon and could also offer a meaningful viewing experience for people suffering in the aftermath of a betrayal of this nature.
Most of the film unfolds on the turbo-charged set of the I Love Lucy show, in 1952, and traces the rehearsal and production process of a single episode. The cast convenes to read the lines the day after Walter Winchell reported that Lucille Ball was listed as a member of the communist party. Nicole Kidman is entirely convincing as Lucille Ball and Javier Bardem is equally captivating as Desi Arnaz. The episode’s assembly timeline frames a plot which is interspersed with flashbacks documenting how each half of this couple factored heavily in the other’s stunning professional success.
From a psychological perspective, what is most interesting about the film is its ability to capture the deep the bond between this prolific power couple while simultaneously exploring their marital pathology. Lucy and Desi are creative soulmates. Desi commands the big picture of their artistic vision and Lucy pays meticulous, relentless attention to every minute detail of their performance. When they first meet and fall in love, it is Desi who pushes Lucy to conceive of herself as more than a typical Hollywood starlet. It is he who notices her natural comic genius. It is Lucy who challenges powerful male executives and faces down brutal racial stereotypes, refusing to sign onto the I Love Lucy show if she cannot have Desi as her co-star. (She is warned by bullying studio bigwigs that America will not accept their marriage and that if Desi plays her husband, the show will fail.) Their creative chemistry seems so magical that viewers may understandably long for the couple to prevail. It is so easy to see why Lucy is drawn to Desi. He gets her – he protects her – he respects her artistry and he has her professional back. Their ability to complement each other’s strengths and limitations offers a rare window into how suspecting or unsuspecting partners can overlook infidelity. The film is a compelling essay on the pulls of denial and the pains of discovery.
Leo Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina opens with the sentence: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” The same could be said about happy and unhappy marriages. Few couples have shared the level of synergetic collaboration and shared professional success as Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. And one distinct feature of this “unhappy” marriage is the tremendous joy and pleasure that their union brought to the American public.