Being the Ricardos was one of last year’s most divisive films. Some thought it was a well-acted glimpse behind I Love Lucy’s curtain with an Aaron Sorkin twist. Others thought it was a miscast character assignation of two beloved comedy legends. Either way, the film likely left you wanting to learn more about Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Lucy and Desi delivers just that. This documentary touches upon every main point from Being the Ricardos, i.e. Ball’s communism accusations, her second pregnancy, and various marriage struggles. Lucy and Desi also tackles their lives before meeting and what happened after the marriage ended.
While Amy Poehler has a few directing credits in her filmography, Lucy and Desi marks her foray into documentaries. Poehler is a fitting choice to helm the project for a few reasons. If there’s a modern equivalent to Lucille Ball, Poehler is a frontrunner among several other SNL ladies. Just as Ball and Arnaz were an iconic couple, Poehler shared the screen with then-husband Will Arnett on several occasions. Despite their chemistry onscreen, though, the marriage didn’t last. Poehler’s understanding of Lucy and Desi is apparent throughout the film, although she doesn’t make an onscreen appearance. Instead, Poehler interviews Bette Midler, Carol Burnett, and others who picked up where Ball left off.
The most interesting talking head is Lucie Arnaz, who naturally has the most personal connection to the film’s titular stars. Arnaz’s reflection on her parents’ final conversation is especially poignant. Poehler fills in the gaps with archived footage, recordings, and clips from I Love Lucy that mirrored real life. Lucy and Desi essentially gives everything one would expect from a documentary about Ball and Arnaz. For those just discovering their work, this is a solid introduction to the real-life couple. However, it’s not the most thorough exploration of their lives and careers.
Poehler gets to all of the highlights, but some moments can feel rushed. We often receive the bullet points, but we don’t always get a deep analysis. Several chapters are also omitted, including Ball’s second television series and her short-lived third sitcom. That said, the film is only an hour and forty minutes. To get a complete portrait of Ball and Arnaz, a docuseries might’ve been in order. Although the run time is constraining and the execution is safe, Poehler’s film is lovingly made and offers some tidbits that even longtime fans might not know.
If Lucy and Desi leaves you wanting more, your next stop should be Season 3 of the TCM podcast, The Plot Thickens. Of all the retrospectives on Ball, this is probably the most detailed with insight into her childhood, entertainment career, and personal life. That’s not to say you should skip Lucy and Desi, as there is much to enjoy here. It’s wonderful that we’re getting so many projects dedicated to Ball and Arnaz, showing just how timeless their contributions have been. As much as we’ve unraveled, there’s still much to be said about the brunette behind the redhead.