There’s something to be said about a documentary that chooses NOT to be flashy. At this year’s Sundance film festival, such a film was premiered with its sole objective being to tell the story of its subjects’ lives. There is absolutely nothing controversial about it, which makes it among the most refreshing hour and forty three minutes you will see this year. It also happens to be very good.
Lucy and Desi chronicles the lives of two of the most important people in the history of television, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Their story is told through recordings of them along with several of their children, the children of those along for the ride, mentored comediennes, and even some academics. The quality of the old recordings are sometimes not great, yet it doesn’t detract from the charm of the story. In fact, one might say that it actually enriches the experience.
They both had to live their lives “uphill” in multiple ways, and while the film portrays this in sympathetic ways, it also doesn’t dwell on it or rub the viewers’ virtual noses in it. Lucy came from a poor family and had to work extremely hard to make her way from modeling to B movie actress and eventually to TV star in a male dominated entertainment business. Whereas Desi came from Cuba and spoke with a thick Hispanic accent that marked him as a minority in a virtually all-white industry.
Despite the hardships, they managed to capture magic in a bottle (or a cathode ray tube, if you will) by creating the medium defining series, I Love Lucy. The film showcases many of the funniest bits of the show and it really can’t be undersold how amazingly funny it is. The episodes seem to age very well, and director Amy Pohler’s affection for the show is very apparent.
Of course their lives weren’t all happiness and sunshine and perseverance. Hollywood life, especially with their rise to being some of the greatest creators and facilitators in television history, was not easy on their personal lives. The tragedies are tastefully and movingly portrayed here, with perfect timing.
This documentary does what Amazon’s and Aaron Sorkin’s Being the Ricardos did not, which is fully showcase how brilliant these two individuals were. It’s so much easier to appreciate how charming they were through their actual words and footage than through caricature portrayals.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Lucy and Desi is the best film of the year so far. It was nothing short of a joyful revelation of storytelling genius. Director Amy Pohler, writer Mark Monroe, and editor Robert A Martinez have created something truly special in what is certainly the best documentary in recent years.
Lucy and Desi premieres on Amazon Prime this Friday, March 4th.