Released: 4th March
Seen: 29th March
Throughout the history of Television, it could very well be argued that Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez are the most important figures in defining what the medium was capable of. Not only did they have a show that would go down in history as one of the true greats of the genre in I Love Lucy, but Lucy and Desi worked together to create the methods that sitcoms used, their studio was the main place where a ton of the biggest shows of the first era of Television were filmed and they’re why Star Trek exists. The story of Lucy and Desi is absolutely fascinating, and the documentary Lucy and Desi crams in so much of it that it’s one of the most undeniably engaging documentaries of the year.
Through a combination of found audiotapes, interviews with Lucy and Desi’s children and a couple of their celebrity fans, Lucy and Desi tells the tale of the long and fascinating careers and lives of the couple who defined sitcoms for generations. Starting from their humble beginnings in B films and on the vaudeville circuit and going through their meeting on the set of Too Many Girls to the height of the I Love Lucy show and their eventual divorce. It’s a fascinating rollercoaster full of the highest highs and dramatic lows told with the kind of love that this legendary couple deserves.
The brilliant thing about Lucy and Desi is its accessibility. Even if you’ve never heard of Lucy (who the hell are you if you’ve never heard of Lucille Ball?) the film will quickly get you up to speed on what made them special, though if you’re well versed in these legends it doesn’t linger on it so long that you’ll be sitting there going “I know this already!”, it’s got that great ability to ease you in as a newbie while stringing you along as a fan to learn a ton of fascinating detail about the lives of these icons.
The use of Lucy and Desi’s private recordings to create a narration was a genius move that really helps push things along, almost like Lucy and Desi sat down to tell us their glorious story from start to finish. It’s never made clear how many tapes were used to make this, but it’s so well edited that it sounds like one long recording session that helps us easily chart their careers and their emotional relationship. Combine that with the addition of the interview with Lucie Arnaz which helps fill in a few blanks and you have the makings of an absolutely fantastic documentary.
If you recall the recent film Being the Ricardos, the stuff that you might’ve learned about Lucy and Desi in that film is expanded on and put in a proper timeline here. It corrects some serious misconceptions, shows the darker details that really help you know just how difficult things were for this power couple and how hard they had to fight to become the legends they did. All of this is deftly handled by Amy Poehler who proves that on top of being one of the funniest women of the modern era she’s also damn fantastic when it comes to helming a documentary, please make more of these because this was wildly enjoyable.
Lucy and Desi is an absolute must-see for anyone who even has a cursory interest in the history of television and the importance of the titular couple. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll learn about everything from how reruns were invented to how the working relationship between Lucy and Desi defined their entire lives. Genuinely one of the best entertainment documentaries in recent years, undeniable in every possible way.