Amy Poehler’s Touching Documentary Includes Ball and Arnaz on an Emotional Level

Amy Poehler‘s ‘Lucy and Desi’ Suggests Director Understands Subjects Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz – the power couple behind the “I Love Lucy” juggernaut – on an emotional level. She loves them. At first glance, being interested in your topic should be a low bar to cross. Even so, look at Aaron Sorkin, the director of the starry but plastic biopic “Being the Ricardos.” A few months ago, speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, he let slip his unfiltered thoughts on “I Love Lucy”: “It’s not a show that if we take a fresh look at today, we would find funny.”

Besides her genuine admiration for Ball and Arnaz, Poehler has another advantage over Sorkin: she has the stars themselves. Combining home movies and audio tapes recorded by Ball and Dezi, provided by the couple’s daughter, Lucie Arnaz, the director traces the artists’ rise from B-list stars to cultural icons. Swapping occasionally in hero worship, Poehler’s “Lucy and Desi,” a dizzying and nimble homage to Ball and Arnaz and the historic spectacle they created, isn’t dampened by its heartwarming true spirit either.

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Many of these celebrity reveals rely on unreleased soundtracks (“Kubrick by Kubrick,” Billie Holiday’s film “Billie,” to name a few). The effectiveness of treasure depends on the uniqueness of the information provided by the audio and how the director shapes it within the frame of the picture. “Lucy and Desi” is kind of comfort food, rarely opening up new ground for investigation. The audio tapes offer no unknown information about either spouse. But Poehler does a solid job of integrating the couple’s voices into their own story arcs.

Rather than relying on surprises, Poehler uses the inherent power that emerges when people tell their own stories to propel action. The director covers Ball and Arnaz meeting on the set of George Abbott’s 1940 musical “Too Many Girls,” their disparate backgrounds and how their fatal love grew overnight. She also studies their respective influence as stars: Arnaz debunked stereotypes surrounding Cubans for American audiences; Ball demonstrated how women could be funny and could be showrunners, and the tools needed to survive both.

Poehler has a strong grip on creating the “I Love Lucy” couple. How Arnaz became the perfect producer, revolutionizing television production by deciding to capture the series on film and hiring a strong team of writers, producers, and crew to support the couple. Or Ball’s range as an actress and comedic performer: A section in which Ball explains the importance for an actor to know his body and observe the world illustrates his artistic prowess more than any biopic. Considering the many hats that Poehler has worn over the course of her career – director, producer, screenwriter and actress – these elegantly sketched observations are a matter of material matching the filmmaker perfectly. She understands Ball and Arnaz on a visceral level. And it shows.

The director also summons a powerful host of talking heads — Bette Milder, Carol Burnett, Eduardo Mechado — to contextualize Ball and Arnaz’s importance as performers and moguls, and the complementary creative roles they shared. She uses old interviews with “I Love Lucy” producer Jess Oppenheimer and her son Gregg to further recount the communist accusation leveled against Ball by the House Un-American Activities Committee and the groundbreaking pregnancy storyline of the actress in the series. Lucie, the couple’s daughter, fills in the biggest emotional holes by taking viewers inside the couple’s home: a mash-up of home movies from the family’s ill-fated European vacation, showing Ball as miserable as the day is long, visibly angry, with Ball and Lucie’s own words, sharply explain the disillusionment of the couple’s marriage, even as their production company Desilu broke records.

As is often the case with these documentaries, “Lucy and Desi” veers into hagiographic territory, especially the company of the couple. Poehler discusses Arnaz’s multiple infidelities but remains light on the details. A few talking heads note how fans conveniently overlook Ball’s second husband, Garry Morton, to further mythologize the power couple’s TV partnership. But the documentary essentially commits the same sin by quickly jumping past Morton. Poehler also makes a slight mention of Ball and Arnaz’s son, Desi Arnaz Jr, whose voice only briefly appears early in the film to discuss the pregnancy arc in “I Love Lucy”. Still, the couple’s daughter, the emotional pivot and true star of “Lucy and Desi,” provides enough memories for both of them.

The final ten minutes, a moving and profound crescendo, recall Ball’s last visit with Arnaz, when the latter was dying of cancer, their last telephone conversation, and Ball’s Kennedy Center Honors ceremony after his death. Editor Robert A. Martinez constructs a poignant montage of “I Love Lucy’s” greatest hits. And Lucie’s memories of the past few months, the real, undying affection the two men still showed for each other, even at the end, were enough to wipe away a tear.

Poehler spends much of “Lucy and Desi” giving audiences exactly what they want, sometimes mistakenly. It’s not flashy. That’s not often telling to superfans, or even anyone who’s watched “Being the Ricardos” (although marking the factual differences between the two projects provides intermittent complementary function). “Lucy and Desi,” however, is still meaty as a standalone work and an essential, authentic tribute to those pioneers.

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“Lucy and Desi” premiered in 2022 sun dance Film festival. It will be available to stream on Amazon Prime starting Friday, March 4.

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