Lucy and Desi (2022) ☆☆☆(3/4): On their life and partnership

Amy Poehler’s documentary film “Lucy and Desi”, which was released on Amazon Prime in last week, is sincere and respectful toward a famous couple behind their groundbreaking American TV sitcom series. While cheerfully examining how exceptional their achievement on TV was at that time, the documentary also focuses on their rather imperfect romantic relationship which remained strong throughout the rest of their life, and the overall result is both entertaining and touching as it shows us more of their extraordinary life and career.

The couple in question is Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, the two well-known stars of classic American TV sitcom “I Love Lucy”. When “I Love Lucy” was shown during the 1950s, Ball and Arnaz were virtually at the top of the world thanks to the enormous success of “I Love Lucy”, and this unexpected big success was so influential that it continued to influence their respective lives and careers even after they were no longer a couple inside and outside TV.

During its early part, the documentary informs us on the respective early lives of Ball and Arnaz. Because of a very unfortunate accident which caused a serious financial blow to her family in New York state, Ball was determined to earn money for her family as much as she could, and that was how she later came to enter show business in New York City around the early 1930s. Although she was not that great as a dancer or an actress, Ball was ready to grab any opportunity for her nascent show business career, so she did not hesitate when she came across an accidental chance to go to Hollywood.

She did not expect much at first, but, what do you know, she soon became a fairly prominent studio actress several years later thanks to her diligent efforts. While she was usually assigned to those B-movies, Ball also came to have a good reputation among her notable peers ranging from Ginger Rogers to Katharine Hepburn, and, above all, she earned enough for supporting her family a lot more than before.

And then there came an unexpected romance via Arnaz, who had steadily rose during last several years as a popular Cuban musician. When he fled to Florida after his affluent family lost everything due to the Cuban revolution in 1933, Arnaz was literally penniless, so he had to earn money via many menial jobs including cleaning canary cages, and then he tried on his musical talent later. Although the beginning was not so successful to say the least, he kept trying and learning nonetheless, and that eventually led to a big career break. He subsequently started to work in Hollywood because of not only his musical talent but also his dashing Latino appearance, and that was how he happened to work along with Ball in a musical film named “Too Many Girls” (1940).

Although their first encounter was not exactly romantic, it did not take much time for Ball and Arnaz to fall in love with each other, and, despite their notable racial difference, they soon got married to the surprise of everyone in Hollywood. While they were quite happy to be with each other at first, they subsequently came to feel the growing estrangement between them as both of them were often busy with their respective show business careers, and that estrangement was more increased when Arnaz joined the US Army in the middle of the World War II.

Nevertheless, they searched for any possible solution for their strained married life, and, what do you know, there came a very good chance. During the late 1940s, Ball came to have an unexpected success from a CBS radio show titled “My Favorite Husband”, and she was later requested to appear in a TV show developed from that. Ball accepted the request, but there was one condition she would not give up at any chance. She insisted that her husband should play her character’s husband, and, despite understandable reservation from those executives of CBS, she and Arnaz eventually appeared together as a wife and a husband in front of the TV camera.

Besides their undeniable comic chemistry which was already tested on stage in advance, Ball and Arnaz turned out to be a peerless duo in many aspects. Ball was a sheer perfectionist who strenuously prepared for every comic scene in their TV show in advance. In addition to being an effective straight figure in many comic moments between them, Arnaz also passionately worked as a producer behind the camera. As a dude with a shrew sense of business, he knew well how to negotiate with those executives of CBS and sponsoring companies, and he was also pretty keen in selecting the right crew and cast members for their TV show.

As a result, “I Love Lucy” was pretty successful in its first season, but that was almost nothing compared to much more success Ball and Arnaz had during the following season. Although there later came a big trouble due to Ball’s inconsequential connection with the Communist Party in the past, Arnaz managed to get Ball’s innocence guaranteed by none other than FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, and American people came to love them more than before.

Ball and Arnaz had many breakthrough moments together as they diligently brought laughs to millions of audiences, and their independent TV production company later became a crucial part of the American TV history as producing a number of various TV series ranging from “Mission: Impossible” to “Star Trek”, but they eventually decided to end their marriage in 1960 after having more domestic conflicts between them. Both of them came to have a second spouse not long after that, but they remained to be close with each other to the end while enjoying each own life and career, and the documentary pays some attention to how Ball generously encouraged and supported her juniors on Broadway during her later years.

On the whole, “Lucy and Desi” is an engaging documentary thanks to Poehler’s competent handling of archival footage clips and interview clips, and it is clearly a labor of love for Poehler, considering that she has been one of the most popular comedians on American TV and surely owes a lot to Ball just like many other American female comedians of her generation. In short, this solid documentary can be a good companion piece to Aaron Sorkin’s recent Oscar-nominated film “Being the Ricardos” (2021), and you will surely appreciate more of Ball and Arnaz’s ever-delightful achievement more.

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