If you were as disappointed with Being the Ricardos as I was but you still want to learn something about the lives and the marriage of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, might I suggest checking out Lucy and Desi?
Directed by Amy Poehler, Lucy and Desi covers much of the same material as Being the Ricardos but it does so in a far more authentic way. This is because Lucy and Desi is a documentary, one featuring actual interviews and recordings from Lucy, Desi, and the people who worked with them through the years. As a result, we get to hear the story in their own words as opposed to Aaron Sorkin’s words. I’m hardly the first person to point out that Aaron Sorkin is incapable of writing dialogue that doesn’t sound like something that Aaron Sorkin himself would say. In Being the Ricardos, Lucy and her writers all spoke in Sorkinese and it all felt rather false. Watching Lucy and Desi, you quickly realize that both Lucy and Desi were intelligent and articulate people. Their own words are strong enough, without needing a polish from a screenwriter who, by his own admission, never found I Love Lucy to be all that funny.
Lucy and Desi covers the early lives of both Lucy and Desi as well as detailing how they first met, how they married, and how they went on to revolutionize television with I Love Lucy. More than just being portrayed as being a talented but somewhat volatile couple, both Lucy and Desi emerges as fascinating individuals in their own right. Both of them survived childhood difficulties, both of them remade themselves in Hollywood, and, most importantly, both of them had an instinctive understanding of what audiences wanted to see.
They were also very much in love, even after their divorce. That love was missing from Being the Ricardos but it’s very much present in Lucy and Desi. It was that love that led to the marriage that led to the partnership that made them a success but it was that same success that eventually led to the end of their marriage. And yet, even after divorcing, Lucy and Desi remained close. Their daughter, Lucie Arnaz, talks about the last few times that Lucy saw Desi before Desi’s succumbed to lung cancer. They watched old episodes of I Love Lucy and they laughed together. It’s an incredibly touching moment.
And if sentimentality isn’t your thing, Lucy and Desi also explores just how important their partnership was to the development of modern television. I Love Lucy was the first “modern” sitcom but their company, Desilu Productions, had a hand in producing several other classic shows as well. Star Trek was a Desilu production. So were Mission Impossible and The Untouchables. So much of what we take for granted about pop culture started with Lucy and Desi.
Perhaps the most shocking revelation in the Lucy and Desi documentary is that the J. Edgar Hoover story was true! You may remember that, when I reviewed Being the Ricardos, I scoffed at the scene where Hoover called the studio and personally cleared Lucy of being a communist. But apparently, this actually did happen! I’m as stunned as anyone.
Lucy and Desi is a good and heartfelt tribute to Lucy and Desi, their talent and their love and their lasting influence. It can be viewed on Prime.