Review: Lucy and Desi
Just last year, we got Aaron Sorkin's Being the Ricardos. Acting as an unofficial companion piece, we are now treated to Amy Poehler's documentary Lucy and Desi. This may seem like a lot but considering I Love Lucy is considered one of the best and most important television sitcoms of all time, it is deserved. To this day, the show remains to have the highest average watch rate of any TV show ever. Poehler helps us understand this while focusing on the two stars' relationship.
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz hold a unique place in culture as they appeared to have it all, a wildly successful career together and a love affair that only added to their popularity. Lucy and Desi aims to peel back that idyllic view. Poehler uses a wealth of footage of the two to trace their careers, their relationship, and how it all fell apart. Included within the archival footage are your standard talking-head interviews. They are well-chosen here and include Lucie Arnaz Luckinbill, Desi Arnaz Jr., Carol Burnett, Bette Midler, Charo, and Norman Lear. Poehler also incorporates audio clips from various interviews. While this doesn't break down any tropes of documentaries, it is successful in giving us lots of time with Lucy and Desi.
What stands out is how hard these two people worked to make it. Ball's childhood was rough but never deterred her from following her dreams. Her rise to the Queen of B-movies would be enough for some, but we see that Ball always wanted something more. It is shocking to see how many years went by with no one recognizing her comedic abilities. It takes her moving to radio for that to happen.
Arnaz shared the same drive. Despite coming from money in Cuba, his childhood was also rough. His family had to flee Cuba during the 1933 revolution. He works his way up from cleaning jobs to touring and performing to finally running one of the biggest studios in Hollywood.
The best content from Lucy and Desi comes once they meet and we begin to learn about how they created I Love Lucy. The show was the first to be shot in front of a live studio audience. Due to the show being shot on film and the expense of doing that, each show was only shot once. Let that set in. I Love Lucy is full of well-timed physical comedy and everything you see is take 1. It is impossible not to be impressed by this. The show was also the first to air re-runs, a practice that is very common now.
The last part of the film focuses on the breakup and eventual divorce. Poehler handles this with care, never taking sides. In fact, she focuses on the love they had for each other even after they split. There is a tender story shared about their final moment together before Arnaz died in 1986.
While the film doesn't break the mold of documentaries, it is well made. I am not drawn to this subject naturally but Poehler creates a well-paced and interesting film. If you are a fan of I Love Lucy, the film is a must.