'Lucy and Desi' review: Amy Poehler's first-rate portrait of iconic couple
DOCUMENTARY "Lucy and Desi"
WHERE Streaming on Prime Video
WHAT IT'S ABOUT The documentary "Lucy and Desi" finds an icon of comedy present, Amy Poehler, stepping behind the camera to tell the story of perhaps the greatest comedy icons of them all, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.
The biographical details of this story are familiar — Poehler traces Ball's rise through the business from her stint as a Goldwyn Girl to her starring role in B movies, alongside Arnaz's journey from being a Cuban refugee to a big band leader, before they both transform the entertainment business forever with "I Love Lucy" and Desilu Productions.
The picture finds its most essential purpose in the way it weaves the story of their marriage into this framework.
Poehler utilizes present-day sit-downs with daughter Lucie Arnaz Luckinbill and candid, archival interviews with Ball and Arnaz to provide a full sense of how the great love they shared, with all of its joys and challenges, shaped their work that continues to entertain and inspire millions today.
MY SAY In a standard quirk of Hollywood timing, "Lucy and Desi" arrives on Prime Video just months after the release of Aaron Sorkin's "Being the Ricardos," a narrative version of a sliver of this story that has earned three Oscar nominations.
There's a danger in regarding Poehler's movie as an afterthought, or as a sort of supplement to a starry fictionalized movie with Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem as Lucy and Desi.
While it's impossible to compare the two, there's no doubt that the documentary stands powerfully on its own, offering insights into who these two legends were as people, and an accompanying degree of emotional heft that tends to not be of great interest to Sorkin.
"Lucy and Desi" is conventionally assembled, taking the audience through this story in a largely linear fashion, though one of the most affecting sequences involves doubling back through Desi's childhood.
But through her work with writer Mark Monroe, Poehler offers a vivid portrayal of why "I Love Lucy" mattered as much as it did, in so many ways.
It reflected and commented upon the stars' married life off-screen; perfected the art of capturing physical comedy on camera; introduced revolutionary new concepts to television such as the rerun, and so much more.
Those innovations, which did nothing short of change the business forever, only stand as a part of the larger story in Poehler's film.
The most fundamental appeal in the characters of Lucy and Ricky Ricardo had everything to do with their relatability, and even today, all these decades later, nearly everyone who watches an episode of "I Love Lucy" can see a little bit of their own lives in it
In its vibrant portrayal of two people who were deeply in love but unable to stay in a marriage that became such an enduring symbol, so much bigger than life, "Lucy and Desi" enhances our understanding of one of the most timeless works of 20th century popular culture.
BOTTOM LINE This is a first-rate documentary that tells the story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in a way that allows for new insights into who they were and why they had the impact they did.