‘Lucy’ reveals duo’s comedy success, troubled marriage
Television was forever changed the night of Oct. 15, 1951. The premiere of “I Love Lucy” introduced the nation to a kooky redhead and her sexy Cuban-born husband. “I Love Lucy” ruled Monday nights for CBS. So many people watched the sitcom that stores closed early and there was a noticeable drop in crime.
CBS offers a look at how the classic comedy was born in the new three-hour movie “Lucy.” The movie offers a sentimental journey with one of America’s favorite couples. There is enough distance since the comedy’s heyday that the actors are easy to accept. Rachel York and Danny Pino capture the famous idiosyncrasies of Lucy and Desi Arnaz without falling into lame caricatures.
The story begins in Jamestown, N.Y., in 1925. A teenage Lucy works at her uncle’s hamburger stand while dreaming of being a famous actress. She flirts with danger when she dates a gangster’s son and proves that she is fearless when it comes to trying new things.
The one constant in her life is her mother, brother and grandfather. Her father died when she was 3 years old. Her mother was extremely supportive of Lucy’s dreams and even arranged for her to attend an acting school in New York City.
“You’re a natural born actress. You just need a little schooling,” says Mom (Ann Dowd).
Lucy does not fare well among the sophisticated city women, which includes a young Bette Davis. She is told she will never succeed at acting and is quickly sent home.
Lucy persists in her dream and soon is a bleach-blond Carnegie model and the Chesterfield cigarette girl. From there she makes the leap to Hollywood and quickly becomes a fixture of B films. The RKO studio’s talent committee kept renewing her contract because she is “easy to look at,” has “great legs,” and is “always willing to take a pie” in the face.
One day at the studio, Lucy spots the man of her dreams across a crowded studio lot. She shocks everyone in Hollywood, and her family, when she quickly marries Desi Arnaz, who is one of the sex symbols for RKO. As their marriage prospers, despite Desi’s wondering eye, their careers take different turns. RKO keeps Lucy but drops Desi, which only exacerbates his philandering.
Soon, Lucy begins struggling with her career. No one at the studios seems to know what to do with her. She receives some comedy training from experts Buster Keaton and Red Skelton and sage advice from her best friend, actress Carole Lombard.
“Funny is forever,” says Lombard. Lucy never forgets those words.
Unfortunately, the studios don’t know how to use a funny Lucy. She is out of work and dreaming of having children when television begins.
Television becomes the last chance for Lucy and Desi to make something of their careers. Desi proves to be a cunning negotiator and producer. He revolutionizes how television shows are shot and builds an empire that becomes the most profitable television studio in the 1950s.
“I am such a pessimist when it comes to happiness,” says Lucy. “It never seems to last.”
Those feelings would define Lucy’s life over and over. At the height of career success, Lucy and Desi begin having troubles in their marriage. Soon the end of their love would spell the end of TV’s most popular show.
York easily walks the fine line between a serious portrayal of a comedy actress without falling into a silly spoof of the woman. Her flame red hair and voice inflections capture Lucy’s zaniness. It’s fun to watch her rehearse and perform some of the funniest bits from the show.
York is able to reveal the tough side of Lucy while still keeping her the lovable girl next door. There is some foul language sprinkled throughout the movie, but it is used realistically and is never offensive.
“Lucy” is a nice tribute to a couple who struggled with their own jealousies and insecurities while entertaining a nation.
‘Lucy’ airs at 8 p.m. Sunday on CBS.