‘Lucy and Desi’ Review: Love in the Time of Television

The filmmakers of the lightweight documentary “Lucy and Desi” benefited from an embarrassment of riches. Over many years, in hundreds of hours of footage, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz enacted a simulacrum of their domestic life in “I Love Lucy.” In her chronicle of the duo’s romance and work, the director, Amy Poehler, draws liberally from this trove.

These television clips are the most evocative and transporting elements of the documentary, which in spite of its material offers limited insight into its central couple. Talking-head interviews with historians and children of the pair’s collaborators usher us through the decades at a clipped pace that, along with the distance of elapsed time, gives the story an impersonal feel. Joyful periods take heavy precedence over misfortunes, and some difficult topics, such as Arnaz’s womanizing, come up only obliquely.

But the movie’s most frustrating choices concern Ball’s registration with the Communist Party, a scandal that takes center stage in the biopic “Being the Ricardos.” Poehler merely touches on the episode’s most familiar details before using it as a jumping off point to describe Arnaz’s escape from Cuba. We learn that Arnaz’s father, a wealthy mayor under the Gerardo Machado administration, was arrested during the revolution. Rather than demystify these politics or investigate where Ball’s views differed from Arnaz’s, the movie takes pains to underline Arnaz’s disdain for Communism and appreciation for the United States.

Here is a documentary that invites us to delight in the unexpected pairing of a famed funny lady and a hunky musician — but without analysis or nuance. Better to flip on a few “I Love Lucy” reruns instead.

Lucy and Desi
Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 43 minutes. Watch on Amazon.

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