Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds
In a bit of synchronicity, a documentary about Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds premieres this weekend. Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds would’ve been a surefire doc hit regardless of the passing of two Hollywood legends. There’s a symbiotic relation that existed between the mother and daughter that makes their legacy sincere and profound.
As directed by Alexis Bloom and Fisher Stevens, Bright Lights finds quiet moments where dark secrets are revealed. Stevens in particular has street cred as a doc producer with an Oscar win for the dolphin killing exposé The Cove. Stevens, in addition to being an actor (he most famously played an Indian scientist in the 1986 film Short Circuit) also made the recent global warming doc Into the Flood.
Both Carrie and Debbie shot their breakthrough films when they were 19 years old. Singin’ in the Rain (1952) and Star Wars (1977) are films that define the thought processes of separate generations. The mother daughter combo provides fodder for their fake family feuds. In the end they were as attached as Siamese twins.
In fact they shared fences as one tracking shot has Carrie walking through her back yard, into Debbie’s backyard and into the Reynolds manse. There’s a gentle sense of competition between the two, a balance that translates into characters that define Fisher’s writing style, perhaps the most well known being Postcard From the Edge. In the film that Fisher adapted from her own book, Meryl Streep plays Fisher fresh out of rehab and Shirley MacLaine plays Reynolds complete with an impromptu musical number.
Carrie’s father Eddie Fisher was himself the top singing star of the early to mid 1950s. A brief sequence where Carrie visits him shows the ravages of age. Reynolds looks much better for wear, but obviously has problems with memory. Carrie accompanies Debbie to a SAG awards event in 2015 and the banter ranges from comic to codependent.
At one point Reynolds humors an audience by saying, “I should’ve married Burt Reynolds. I wouldn’t have to change my name and we could borrow each others wigs.”
Reynolds along with her son, Carrie’s brother Todd, both collect movie memorabilia. Reynolds owns a pair of red glitter shoes from The Wizard of Oz, which were eventually auctioned off for quite a sum. Todd shows off a room full of posters that charts his family and various influences that include Eddie Fisher starring alongside Debbie Reynolds in one movie and then Elizabeth Taylor in another movie. It’s not odd the way the kids accepts the karma of their biological father’s philandering.
One frank conversation has Carrie and her friend Griffin Dunne (another Hollywood kid) sitting in bed having a routine waltz down memory lane. At one point Carrie mentions how Debbie set her up with a sexual encounter in order to better educate her daughter.
There’s a ton of home movie footage that enlivens the proceedings as well as the constant presence of Carrie and Debbie’s respective dogs: Gary a lovable pooch with a protruding tongue and Dwight a curly terrier. Bright Lights plays on cable this weekend, but it’s easy to see an afterlife where the doc finds an even wider audience through DVD sales and even brief theatrical showings.
Bright Lights premieres on HBO Saturday, January 7.