Lucy and Desi manage to have a far more complete and engaging focus on the lives of the I Love Lucy couple.
Published on May 5, 2022
Rating 3.5 /5
It may seem strange that mere weeks after Amazon Prime released the docudrama Being the Ricardos, the streaming service unleashes a documentary on the life of Lucille Ball. Yet it seems like the perfect timing for such a film. The major problem with Being The Ricardos is that it was all over the place, sometimes being a behind-the-scenes drama and sometimes being a mockumentary of talking heads portraying real people with actors. It’s a maddening enough film that it makes you pine for a documentary rather than an elongated and scattershot drama. Well, here it is and it’s just as refreshing as it should be.
The documentary parallels Lucille’s personal life with the character she portrayed on I Love Lucy. Just enough footage and interviews paint the articulate portrait of a popular sitcom star who gave a groundbreaking performance of a powerful comedic woman. For those who weren’t aware of the show’s history, it’s brilliantly conveyed in this picture how much of a household hit I Love Lucy became for American audiences. It’s a great refresher but it’s delivered speedily enough so that this film can get to the juiciest parts you won’t find in all those bog-standard biographies that crowd streaming services and YouTube.
The film unearths some unseen footage centered around interviews and home movies of Lucille’s life. Rather than just unload all of this interesting material in a mess similar to Netflix’s Marilyn Monroe’s recent documentary, this picture actually has some direction to it. Director Amy Poehler doesn’t let all the footage do the talking and gives a clear picture of the trailblazing actor she clearly holds in high regard. She also brings on some strong interviews from Norman Lear, Bette Midler, and Carol Burnett, all giving great detail to Lucille’s heavy influence on their careers.
This combination of the archival and the appreciative gives this documentary an extra dose of excitement and inspiration. The many interviews take note of not only the specifics of their life of Lucille but what made her so amazing. Her fearless nature and astounding comedic timing are what made her the darling of the American television audience and inspired a whole generation of comedic women. The housewives of sitcoms didn’t just have to be the secondary characters as the husbands usually took center stage. They could be something more and garner the biggest laughs. It just goes to show just how much of a master of humor Ball could be and what made I Love Lucy some of the best television of the 1950s.
Avoiding the easy pitfalls of just making this documentary of a slew of Lucy’s best moments, the film tries to favor more of Lucille’s vulnerabilities than hiding them behind the warmer aspects of her show. This is best showcased in how the film attempts to portray her husband Desi Arnaz in a similar light, highlighting his comedic force as much as his romantic affairs that tarnished his marriage. Desi was more of a nightclub singer and it really does make his relationship with Lucille more unique when the I Love Lucy show seems like an activity they could do together, transcending the racial boundaries that television was seeking to impose.
Lucy and Desi manage to have a far more complete and engaging focus on the lives of the I Love Lucy couple. It’s shorter, much more profound, and gives the audience a greater understanding and appreciation for one of television's best stars. Such a film is worth far more than any star-studded docudrama or by-the-numbers retrospective that often bunches up for such a figure. Among the many media generated from the lives of these two conflicted and iconic actors on TV, this is one of the best.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.