If watching Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem in Being the Ricardos left you craving even more details about the lives of one of Hollywood’s most famous TV power couples, director Amy Poehler has you covered. Her documentary Lucy and Desi is simultaneously informative and intimate, telling the fascinating story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s lifelong love for each other and how it was both fueled and frustrated by their shared passion for showbiz.
Poehler draws from a wealth of material for Lucy and Desi, weaving together vintage TV and movie clips, home movie footage, audio from Ball’s personal cassette diaries, and interviews with those who knew and loved Ball and Arnaz (including their daughter, Lucie Arnaz) and those who were inspired by them (icons Carol Burnett, Bette Midler, and more). The result is a rich, comprehensive account of both Ball and Arnaz’ lives — though Lucy is, as always, the star of the show.
It’s understandable that Poehler, a famous funny TV lady in her own right, would want to spend more time on Lucy than on Desi. After all, it’s Ball whom the world has adored ever since she first came into their living rooms in I Love Lucy. But her success was tied to her relationship with Arnaz, whose savvy and showmanship were core to Desilu Productions’ achievements. And Lucy and Desi makes it very clear that the two were true partners, both in their personal lives and in business. Their marriage may not have been able to survive the challenges that a life in show business threw at them, but they remained close and always respected each other.
Presenting Ball and Arnaz as unquestionably smart and talented but also humanly flawed makes them feel real and relatable. They made mistakes; they learned from them; they tried to do better next time. And along the way, they not only created one of the world’s most enduring TV shows and characters, but they also broke ground and set precedents in Hollywood, from casting the Cuban Arnaz in a mainstream network show in the 1950s to having Lucy be visibly pregnant on TV. Their legacy is part of television’s lifeblood — and Poehler’s engrossing film reminds us of that in a powerful way. — Betsy Bozdech
Team #MOTW’s comments:
Sherin Nicole “I Love Lucy was never just a title.” That was true for Desi. And for America too. Lucy and Desi, a documentary by Amy Poehler, explores our adoration for Lucille Ball but also the love and successes she shared with Desi Arnaz, as well as the lives they led before becoming the blueprint for television. Hearing them tell their stories on snippets of reel-to-reel tape, while watching their lifetimes unfold is a melancholy wonderment. Their talents had so many more facets than we understood, as did their story. This is a romance in all its mercurial shades, made more impactful because it is true, and times were good, and sometimes it hurt, and they won anyway, but they also fell out of step. And if they could do all that, maybe we can reach as far. “P.S. I Love Lucy was never just a title,” but the truth is we adored Desi too.
Loren King If Being the Ricardos, despite Nicole Kidman’s and Javier Bardem’s Oscar nominated performances, didn’t convey the seismic impact of the personal and professional partnership of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz on the entertainment world, then and now, the corrective is the documentary Lucy and Desi. Amy Poehler directed this treasure of rare, candid photographs and film clips including home movies that traces their careers, marriage and creation of the groundbreaking TV comedy I Love Lucy. Poehler lets the story unfold largely in their own words, through film footage and audio recordings. These are bolstered by an array of commentators, most crucially Lucie Arnaz Luckinbill who authorized the project and who provides eloquent and entertaining insights about her parents. Read full review.
Susan Wloszczyna: As a card-carrying Baby Boomer, I watched the ground-breaking sitcom I Love Lucy as well as the reruns that continue to be recycled throughout the TV universe to this day. Why? Because the multi-talented Lucille Ball was one of my female idols growing up. The reason? Unlike the moms on such family comedies as The Donna Reed Show, Leave It to Beaver or, heaven forbid, Father Knows Best, they were domestic goddesses who wore pearls and frilly aprons while happily caring for their broadcast clans. However, on-air, Lucy wasn’t so keen on being a housewife. But Lucy desperately wanted to be an entertainer like her musical husband Ricky. Read full review.
Pam Grady: Bring tissues. As one might expect, there are plenty of opportunities for laughter in this documentary portrait of the lives of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, plenty of clips from I Love Lucy, The Lucy Show, Here’s Lucy, and more. But at its base, Lucy and Desi is a romance and a poignant one at that, a relationship forged in show business only to be ripped apart by the very industry that brought them together, yet their love for one another was never extinguished. Actor, comedian, and filmmaker Amy Poehler, a woman who knows a little bit about being funny and navigating a show business marriage, makes her documentary debut with a film that will be catnip to fans while holding in rapt interest the attention even of people coming to the movie with little interest in the subject. Ball and Arnaz largely tell their own story through a treasure trove of audio tapes with their children, Lucie Arnaz Luckinbill and Desi Arnaz, Jr., along with the children of I Love Lucy crew, filling in the gaps. Carol Burnett, Bette Midler, Norman Lear, and others influenced or mentored by Ball add observations in this warm, lively doc, its selection of classic scenes and home movies offering rich evidence that Desi really did love Lucy.
Marilyn Ferdinand The husband-and-wife power couple of Hollywood, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, have faded somewhat from memory as a new style of comedy from much more edgy performers has ascended. However, professional comedians—especially women in the field—have not forgotten the trail these two people broke for them. Producer/director/comedian Amy Poehler provides us with a deep dive into the artistry and personal lives of these entertainment giants, exploring their unbreakable connection, their disappointments, their creativity, and their astonishing capacity for work—the latter of which helped them create one of the largest production studios in Hollywood. Poehler keeps the talking heads to a minimum, allowing Lucy and Desi to speak for themselves through cassette-tape diaries they kept, interviews they gave, and clips from their many performances. You are not likely to find a more rounded, detailed, or loving exploration of this iconic team than Lucy and Desi.
Leslie Combemale Lucy and Desi is a straight-ahead film that avoids using tricks or hybridized documentary styles, and in that way it isn’t bringing anything new to the world of film. It is, however, a loving portrait of a complicated couple that goes deep into how two people worked together, loved, fought, and found peace in a complex lifelong relationship, one that also celebrates two historic performers who left a lasting legacy behind. Read full review.
Jennifer Merin Amy Poehler’s documentary is all about the extremely talented duo whose real personas and lives were the stomping ground for Aaron Sorkin’s truth-based recently released Being the Ricardos. Is it odd for both of these Lucille Ball/Desi Arnaz-centered flicks to be released during the same season? Perhaps so, but it’s also a great opportunity for us to compare two different takes on two celebrated artists who played monumental roles in shaping Hollywood production and the media milieu that has shaped our lives. Step right up and have a look at both — not so much to rank and compare (although comparisons are bound to be plentiful) but to get a fully rounded view of the talents and the times. But whether you do a double bill or not, Lucy and Desi is a Poehler power play, replete with archival footage, audio of Lucille Ball, on camera commentary from Luci Arnaz Luckinbill, Carol Burnett, Bette Midler and other insiders, and production clips that will make you want to binge on I Love Lucy episodes. The documentary is a real treat!
Sandie Angulo Chen: Amy Poehler’s engrossing documentary Lucy and Desi is a fitting tribute to the pioneering vision of television’s first power couple Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. The biographical doc threads together archival footage of Ball and Arnaz’ many movies and shows (mostly classic I Love Lucy scenes) with their own words as well as new interviews with their daughter Lucy Arnaz Luckinbill and stars like Carol Burnett and Bette Midler who worked with and were inspired by Ball and Arnaz. Poehler’s documentary confirms how Lucy and Desi’s love, talent, and mutual respect and admiration broke barriers, transformed television, and remained strong even after their 20-year marriage ended in divorce. More powerful and impactful than Sorkin’s Academy Award-nominated biopic Being the Ricardos.
Nell Minow: What made I Love Lucy a hit was the comedy. What made it a classic was the love story. This documentary from director/producer Amy Poehler is a love story, too. Archival recordings and affectionate commentary from family members and stars Lucille Ball mentored and inspired provide a sympathetic setting for the story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, wildly successful television stars playing a married couple and as owners of the largest independent studio in Hollywood, but whose real-life marriage was less successful.
Liz Whittemore Iconic Hollywood couple Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez broke barriers. They made their way in the industry with talent, hard work, and bravery. In her new documentary Lucy and Desi, Amy Poehler brings to life a true love story that changes Hollywood more than either could have ever imagined. Desi Arnez was an extraordinary musician turned producer and eventual studio owner. He was relentless in climbing a ladder that should not have existed for him at that time. Lucille Ball is an icon. Her physical comedy, facial expressions, and work ethic are the blueprint for innumerable female performers throughout history. Together they created fireworks. Lucy and Desi were curators of quality. They ran three cameras on film, and because that was so expensive, Desi said there would be no retakes. The show was live theatre on film. I Love Lucy would create the live studio audience format and reruns. The success of the I Love Lucy show is only the beginning of the story. After the series ended, the marriage everyone thought they knew from television began to change. Lucy and Desi delves into the highs and lows of one of entertainment’s most iconic couples. This intimate portrait filled with interview audio, photograph, home videos, and episode clips paints an honest picture of who they were to America and one another.
Cate Marquis Last year’s fictionalized biopic Being the Ricardos makes a nice appetizer for the main course offered by Amy Poehler’s affecting, in-depth documentary Lucy and Desi. You do not have to be a big fan of Lucille Ball to be intrigued by this insightful documentary about one of TV’s most ground-breaking stars, savvy partnerships and enduring love story. With commentary by their daughter Lucie Arnez and stars such as Bette Midler and Carol Burnett, and a trove of audio recordings, Lucy and Desi You do not have to be a big fan of Lucille Ball to be intrigued by this gives a balanced look at both members of this show-biz team, reaching beyond the surface to help us understand each of them, and why their business partnership worked but marriage didn’t.
Title: Lucy and Desi
Director: Amy Poehler
Release Date: March 4, 2022
Running Time: 103 minutes
Screenwriter: Documentary, Mark Monroe
Distribution Company: Amazon Studios
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Marilyn Ferdinand, Pam Grady, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sherin Nicole, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna
Edited by Jennifer Merin