Amy Poehler explores Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s legacy in the new documentary, Lucy and Desi, premiering at Sundance.
Sundance audiences will get to watch the film before Amazon Studios releases on Prime Video in March. This film was one of my high priority films going into the festival simply because it’s about sitcom pioneers Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Well, this and the fact that Amy Poehler directs it. I’ve seen her narrative features but documentaries provide a nice change of pace from the narrative side. There’s a nice mix of both talking heads and archive footage. In fact, there’s plenty of time where Amy lets Lucy do the talking through archival interview audio.
There have been many power couples in comedy over the years including Burns and Allen. But when it comes to the early years of television, Lucy and Desi are at the top. It doesn’t happen without them having so many years of odd hours and not seeing each other. It’s this need to spend more time together that led to the series. Prior to the series, she had been working in films when she finally got a break in radio. Meanwhile, Desi was a band leader but again, their hours often conflicted when it came to spending time together. When Lucille Ball began to make her transition from radio to TV, TV executives didn’t want to see a white woman married to a Cuban immigrant. Audiences would go onto prove the studio wrong!
Her career started when she became a model after moving to New York. New York wasn’t working out so she jumped at the opportunity to become a chorus girl and moved to LA. Yes, Sam Goldwyn played a role in her big break. She worked her way through the studio system before moving over to radio and later TV. No matter the medium, she was always successful at comedy. She would do things that no other women would do on the screen. This is what makes her a pioneer in comedy. If there’s a Mount Rushmore of women in comedy, it would be incomplete without Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett.
Here’s the thing about Desi that you might not know–he’s just as brilliant behind the camera as a producer. Desi is the reason why so many of the I Love Lucy staff came aboard to work for them. And no, none of them are named Donald Glass because Donald Glass never worked on this show! But anyway, they were among the first scripted series to utilize the multi-camera taping system and shoot on 35mm film. Cinematographer Karl Freund won five Emmys for his work on the six-season series. Oh yeah, you can thank Lucy and Desi for the syndicated reruns, too.
Without the genius thinking and the writing staff, we wouldn’t get some of the most talked about classic episodes of all time. Vitameatavegamin is a classic. The second season premiere sees Lucy go to the chocolate factory and it’s still funny today.
The film covers some of the incidents mentioned in Being the Ricardos but this film does so in a much better way. I’ve already covered it in my review of that film but the incidents shown did not happen in the same week. This film also spends more than a few minutes on Desi Jr.’s birth and the communist scandal. It never really goes in-depth on the Confidential scandal. That being said, you get this sense that they never stopped caring for each other after the divorce. They saw each other in Florida just before Desi passed away in December 1986. Honestly, I had tears by the time they get to this part of their lives. Ball would receive the Kennedy Center Honors a mere five days after he passed away.
To Lucie and Desi Jr., thank you for sharing your parents with us. We’re forever grateful to the laughs they gave us. We don’t have the likes of Amy Poehler and Tina Fey without Lucille Ball being a pioneer in comedy.
If you’re looking for a film to introduce you to Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, you won’t go wrong with Lucy and Desi.
DIRECTOR: Amy Poehler
SCREENWRITER: Mark Monroe
FEATURING: Lucie Arnaz Luckinbill, Bette Midler, Carol Burnett, Laura LaPlaca, Eduardo Machado, Charo, Journey Gunderson, Gregg Oppenheimer, David Daniels, Norman Lear, Desi Arnaz Jr.
Lucy and Desi holds its world premiere during the 2022 Sundance Film Festival in the Premieres program. Amazon will release March 4 on Prime Video.
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