D: Amy Poehler. Starring: Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Lucie Arnaz, Bette Midler, Carol Burnett, Norman Lear. 12A, 103 minutes.
“i love lucy was never just a title,” wrote Desi Arnaz in his posthumous letter to his ex-wife Lucille Ball. It was read five days after his death at Ball’s Kennedy Center honors celebration. Cameras recorded Ball’s calm, tear-stained reaction as she sat on a balcony with a medal slung over her shoulders and watched the action from above. The groundbreaking sitcom they made together was born out of love — an uncomplicated desire for husband and wife to work side-by-side and keep their families together. “You can’t have kids on the phone,” Ball later joked.
What i love lucy became a program that shapes our concept of television to this day. The sitcom, which focused on the weekly antics of bandleader Ricky (Arnaz) and his fame-seeking wife Lucy (Ball), was the first to be shot on film with an audience in attendance rather than broadcast live. And since they kept copies of the episodes, this effectively led to the creation of the rerun. Through Ball and Arnaz’s production company, Desilu, the couple continued to push the boundaries of what was possible on television through series The Untouchables and star trek.
It is this relentless ingenuity and passionate dedication that drives Aaron Sorkin’s now Oscar-nominated biopic, Be the Ricardos, not entirely appreciated. So watch Amy Poehler’s new documentary, Lucie and Desi, an antidote. Sorkin has openly admitted that he doesn’t find it i love lucy really funny. Hagiography is never the ideal approach, but Poehler, a comedian clearly influenced by Ball, can at least understand the intimacy between the couple’s life and work. They divorced in 1960 but nonetheless maintained a creative connection that survived their second, longer-lasting marriage.
The fates of all these people intertwine in a surprising way. Ball came from an unhappy family and strived to support herself from an early age. She worked tirelessly, honing her craft and dominating the B-movie industry before abruptly turning to comedy. Arnaz, who came to the US from Cuba as a child, helped popularize the conga in the nightclubs before meeting Ball at the RKO studio lot.
The documentary features the voices of the couple’s two children, Desi Arnaz Jr. and Lucie Arnaz Luckinbill, and it is the latter whose involvement alters what could otherwise easily have been dismissed as a conventional biography. Luckinbill never seems particularly defensive about her parents’ inheritance. She is above all a daughter trying to understand why her parents acted the way she did and why, it seems, certain things were never discussed in her home.
Lucie and Desi, suffers from a lack of questioning in places – particularly when it comes to Arnaz’s views on Communism, his alcoholism and infidelity, and the House of Representatives’ Commission on Un-American Activities investigation into Ball’s political allegiances (as covered in Sorkin’s film). But Poehler, alongside producer and writer Mark Monroe, makes a clear artistic choice here: This is a love story, not an exposé. The carefully edited clips from i love lucyplus an extensive home video archive, do a wonderful job of uniting Ricky and Lucy who we see on screen and Desi and Lucille who lived behind it.
The number and caliber of speakers here is impressive, and there’s something simple about the way Carol Burnett and Bette Midler both burst into tears a little when discussing how Ball served as a mentor later in their careers and beautiful. “It’s about unconditional love at its core,” Luckinbill says at one point. It was true with Ball and Arnaz. And it was also true about what they brought to the world.
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/reviews/lucy-and-desi-review-lucille-ball-b2027502.html Lucy and Desi Review: Amy Poehler’s documentary is an antidote to the failures of Being the Ricardos