- Movie Rating -

Lucy and Desi (2022)

| March 4, 2022

Early in the Amazon Prime documentary Lucy and Desi, there is a photograph of the famous couple in a dress rehearsal for “I Love Lucy.”  It is a black and white photo of Lucy looking guilty and Desi looking suspicious.  As I looked at this photo, I realized that these two people have always felt less like actors and more like relatives who came by your house every week.  My mother once noted that if you saw them on the street, you might have forgotten yourself and assumed that you knew them.

Lucy and Desi represent, in essence, the magic of television.  If the movie stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age seemed like beings from Heaven, then television stars seemed like your crazy relatives and this couple, part of their magic is that you sensed that they really were in love.  Most domestic sitcoms of the 1950s featured paired-up an actress to play the housewife and an actor to play the husband but you never got that distance from these two – they loved each other.  You could feel it.

Amy Pohler’s loving documentary Lucy and Desi is an intimate look inside their lives, their careers and their personal connective tissue.  Despite what you’ve heard in hindsight about Desi’s hard drinking and frequent carousing (which was all true), the thing that pulled them together was their devotion to each other.  The story is told through interviews with not only Lucy Arnaz and Desi Jr., also Norman Lear, Carol Burnett and Bette Midler who are not just painting up flowery words about their brilliance but have clearly spent their careers in awe of this couple, how they worked together, how Lucy insisted on Desi as her co-star so they could be closer together and what that workload ultimately did to their marriage. 

What is special about this documentary is that we also hear the story through audio recordings of Lucy and Desi themselves.  Their accounts paint a picture that take us deeper than any second-hand account.  Pohler isn’t interested in just another by-the-number documentary that only focuses on the red-letter moments, but what kept them together and what drove them apart.  In that way, she shifts focus away from just the machinations of the show and tries to see them as artists whose genius for comedy and production were ahead of their time, and also foolhardy given that the medium was still in its infancy.

It says something of Lucy’s love for Desi that she would be willing to fight for him against a racist network administration that was dead-set against giving him anything.  They didn’t want Desi for the part of Ricky Ricardo because they never thought that the television audience would accept and all-American girl married to a Cuban man.  But it was part of the plan – she had created the show so that they could work together because he was working night clubs and was gone all the time.  Not only was the show a success, but out of that success came their own studio, Desilu, which would produce a few shows that you might have heard of: “Mission: Impossible”, “The Untouchables”, “Mannix” and a little science fiction curiosity called “Star Trek.”

And yet, as their fame and success grew, so too did the strains on their marriage.  One of the great things about this documentary is that Pohler plays up the love affair between Lucy and Desi so well that their eventual downfall in the wake of that success hits even harder.  The third act of the film really informed me of just how ineffectual “The Lucy and Desi Comedy Hour” and “The Lucy Show” really were.  The heartbreak of the end of their relationship is painfully evident.  In the former, there was tension that you could see and feel.  In the later, he wasn’t there at all.  This is an emotional journey, one that shows who these people were and what they meant to each other.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2022) View IMDB Filed in: Documentary