The movie starts with the filming of the final episode of 'The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour', a continuation of the very successful 'I Love Lucy' TV series, in 1960. Lucy and Desi are privately calling each other names, some of which we could never have imagined them saying to each other, in an era when such words were not used on TV. In fact, this movie has quite a bit of cursing. Meanwhile, the personas they show to the public appear to tell a different story about the legendary relationship.
Then we switch to the 1920s. Young Lucille Ball helps her Uncle George sells hamburgers, and she dates a boy who supposedly smuggles alcohol from Canada. We see the ups and downs of Lucy's early life as she attempts to start an acting career, including an acting class with a young Bette Davis, who already appears to show promise.
Forward to 1931. Lucy is good-looking and not afraid to take a pie in the face. These qualities give her enough success in movies that she is able to move her mother, brother and grandfather west to live with her. Then she meets Desi Arnaz and falls in love, knowing that he has many women after him, and that his father thought nothing of being married with a mistress. Despite Desi's reputation, the two end up getting married and moving to a nice ranch, and becoming friends with the likes of Clark Gable and Carole Lombard. Desi's mother does not approve of Lucy, while Desi does not care for being considered 'Mr. Ball', since his wife is more famous than he is. World War II contributes to the strain in the relationship, as Desi serves in the military as a musician working for the campaign for War Bonds. Later, however, when the marriage appears headed for an end, a tragedy brings Lucy and Desi together.
Television is the future, and Lucy and Desi take advantage of the chance to further their careers. First, they do a Vaudeville act in front of a live audience, proving that they have what it takes to make people laugh. A radio series follows, and then the TV series that ranks as one of the all-time favorites of many. But despite the faces they show to the world, Lucy and Desi still have their problems.
Madeline Zima does a fine job as young Lucy. But Rachel York is absolutely wonderful, showing the spark immediately after taking over the role in 1931. She is beautiful (better-looking than the real Lucy, actually), confident and determined, and she has that wonderful personality. And Daniel Pino captures Desi perfectly. The accent and the voice make it sound as if the real Desi is actually speaking to us. In the Vaudeville routine, they are perfect. I wish I could say the same for York's performances in re-enactments of the TV series. She was good, but no one could play Lucy Ricardo like Lucille Ball. Pino, however, does a fine job as Ricky. Unfortunately, the actress playing Vivian Vance falls flat as Ethel. We never do see the actor who played William Frawley in the role of Fred, and he didn't stand out much as Frawley. I did enjoy the scenes where the producers and writers tried to solve various problems the series was having, even before production began.
I enjoyed one scene where Lucy trained in silent-movie acting with Buster Keaton, who was considerably older and fatter than he was when he was popular, though the man playing him made him likeable. Other good acting performances: Lucy's African-American maid, who wanted to be in show business but experienced discrimination; Desi's mother (classy, but not on screen very long); Carole Lombard, one of Lucy's closest friends; and Jess Oppenheimer, one of the driving forces behind the TV series.
I was afraid this movie would focus too much on the negative, sordid side of the Lucy-Desi romance. This was true during the third hour, but enough of the positives were shown to provide a balance.
This movie was based on fact but certain details were changed. In the famous chocolate factory scene with Lucy and Ethel, Lucy spoke a line delivered by a third actress in reality. After Lucy celebrated her company's purchase of RKO in 1958 (according to an on-screen graphic), filming on 'I Love Lucy' continued, even though that series had ended production in 1957, succeeded by the hour-long show set in Connecticut. Another gaffe: an early 1960s Cadillac was shown in a scene from the early 1950s.
The following might be SPOILERS: Some of Pino's best scenes came during the third hour of the movie. In one, Pino tearfully explains to the studio audience for the TV show how Lucy is not a Communist and how much he hates Communism. As good as the performance is, the Communists had yet to take over Cuba, and they were in fact enemies of Batista, the dictator who ran the affluent Arnaz family out of Cuba and took away everything they had. Another wonderful scene had Desi and Lucy explaining to their children what divorce meant. The young actress playing Lucie did a fine job there.
I enjoyed this movie, in spite of the negatives in the lives of these two wonderful stars.