LUCY AND DESI (2022)
Featuring Lucie Arnaz Luckinbill, Bette Midler, Carol Burnett, Laura Laplaca, Eduardo Machado, Charo, Journey Gunderson, Gregg Oppenheimer, David Daniels, Norman Lear, Desi Arnaz Jr. and archival footage of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.
Narrated by Michele Spitz.
Written by Mark Monroe.
Directed by Amy Poehler.
Distributed by Amazon Studios. 102 minutes. Rated PG.
Interest in Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz is having a resurrection as of late. A few months ago writer/director Aaron Sorkin released the acclaimed biopic Being the Ricardos starring Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem. Now comedian Amy Poehler (Saturday Night Live, Parks and Recreation) has directed this loving tribute documentary on the legendary redheaded comedienne and her hot-blooded Cuban husband. (Both Being the Ricardos and Lucy and Desi were made for Amazon Prime. Coincidence?)
While there were certainly some darker passages here, Lucy and Desi shows us more of traditional madcap I Love Lucy slapstick humor than the more serious Ricardos. It reminds us of the fact that Lucille Ball was a trailblazer as well as an icon.
It also shows us that her humor was very much a thing of her time. I mean that in both the best and worst possible ways. Many of her classic bits are shared here – the chocolate assembly line, the stomping grapes in a wine vat, the Vitameatavegamin – and while it is easy to see how they became famous, they don’t exactly translate to the modern sense of humor. I found myself amused by the antics and appreciative of the craft behind them, but I can’t say that any of them made me laugh out loud anymore. They felt almost like museum pieces – kinda funny museum pieces, but museum pieces, nonetheless.
However, even if Lucy’s slapstick shtick feels a tiny bit dated, her accomplishments as one of the first female superstars and powerful execs is still vitally timely. As both Sorkin and Poehler recognize, the wacky face that she wore for the public masked a truly smart and savvy businessperson, a woman who had a complicated and often tragic life.
Also like the biopic, Lucy and Desi explores some of the highlights and lowlights of her life and career, including the back-room power plays, the Communist charges by the House Unamerican Activities Committee, the juggling of being a wife and mother, and Desi’s wandering eye when it came to ladies.
It’s interesting to see the ways that the history sometimes changes from film to film. For example, in Being the Ricardos has showrunner Jess Oppenheimer fighting Lucy’s idea of writing her second pregnancy into the show, which became one of the biggest moments in the series. In Lucy and Desi however, Jess’ son Gregg Oppenheimer (who we interviewed over 20 years ago, wow!) insisted that the idea of using the pregnancy into the storyline was his dad’s, one that Lucy and Desi weren’t sure would work. Who knows which is true? I’d bet the second one, as this is a documentary and not a drama based on their lives, so it’s not unheard of for Sorkin to take poetic license on the facts.
However, both films seem pretty accurate, and much of that probably has to do with the intimate involvement of the actors’ daughter Lucie Arnaz in both projects.
As one of the heirs to Ball’s throne, Poehler is obviously in awe of Ball’s talent – both as a comedian and as an executive. This love is apparent throughout the film. There are reasons why people still love Lucy over 70 years after her show debuted. Lucy and Desi reminds us of those reasons.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2022 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: March 4, 2022.