‘Bright Lights’, Starring Carrie Fisher And Debbie Reynolds, Reviewed
Being sick and stuck at home makes you watch a lot of TV, and, between naps, I got to watch ‘Bright Lights’, the new HBO documentary about Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher. One thing is sure, HBO didn’t lose any time to air this movie, just a few days after the passing of these two icons, but, to be fair, Alexis Bloom and Fisher Stevens started filming ‘Bright Lights’ in 2014. So this is not some homage assembled at the last minute, on the contrary, it was Carrie Fisher’s desire to pay tribute to her incredible mother, and it turned to be, very sadly, a double a propos.
The most striking thing in the documentary is obviously the close relationship between the two strong women, they live in the same Hollywood Hills compound and they see each other all the time. During the whole movie, Carrie worries a lot about her mother’s declining health, who is nevertheless still performing in Las Vegas. After seeing ‘Bright Lights’, it is very easy to understand why Debbie felt completely lost after Carrie’s sudden death and didn’t survive another day.
The movie is a love story, a complicated one, simply because life is complicated, because one day, a very famous father can leave America’s sweetheart with his two very young children for Cleopatra, because mental illness and drugs (sometimes provided by the same father) were part of the special gifts for this Hollywood princess.
‘Bright Lights’ is a very intimate film, it feels like a raw and unscripted reality show, you really enter Fisher and Reynolds’ routine, and one sure is certain, humor and songs were always part of their daily routine. These two are entertainers at heart, they are hilarious in any circumstance, even if life has been battling them harshly. They are both survivors, Debbie Reynolds had an amazing career – the film ends with her receiving a Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award – but several disastrous relationships, her second husband businessman Harry Karl was a gambler who dilapidated her money and was seeing hookers. However Debbie at 82, is still wearing lamé outfits and still singing in front of an aging audience in a Nevada casino. She is entertainment, she is show business till the end.
Carrie Fisher, who has been very outspoken about her manic-depressive condition, constantly jokes about it like about everything else in her life, even though her mental illness is in plain view at some points of the movie. She was just a lot of fun to be around, ‘Carrie, at 2, was more interesting that anyone I had ever know,’ says her ex-babysitter, although it was certainly not easy to be in her skin. She is probably the most honest person around, the funniest too, ‘I think I am was funnier than Elizabeth Taylor? Anyway that has always been a goal,’ she tells her father while visiting him at the end of his life. She cared for him during his last months despite him being this absent father, ‘I had to shoot me in the leg for him to give me a call’, explains Todd when remembering a gun accident.
Todd is Carrie’s brother, the sort of narrator in the movie, the balance in the middle of this chaotic love affair between these two over-the-top characters who live in total synch, as they often break out together into spontaneous songs.
At the end, it’s also a movie about aging, and stars like Debbie are the worst at aging ‘Age is horrible for all of us, but she falls from a greater height,’ says Fisher of her mother. A scene with Debbie’s face bruised due to a fall is particularly touching and sad, although Debbie thinks it is not a reason to cancel any of her engagements, such as an auction of her movie memorabilia.
Whereas Carrie always worries about her mother’s health, helping her to pack for a show in Connecticut, ‘I tried to stop her but It’s like throwing yourself in front of ….Tsu-mommy’, she ironically ended up dying first. With all her wackiness, Carrie Fisher appears like this very attaching character whose favorite position is lying on a bed with her favorite drugs, coca-cola (to her trainer’s disapproval) and cigarettes, but she also turns to be a very caring person, taking care of her aging parents, and being always very generous with people around, like fans at a Star Wars con.
‘Bright Lights’ is a vibrant and moving film, examining the unique relationship between these two Hollywood eccentric royalties, it alternates between recent footages and archives, but it never feels exploitative, even though it premiered on HBO just 10 days after their deaths. As a matter of fact, both women saw the films before their deaths and approved it. It may not be the best film to watch when you are stuck in bed with fever, but it will simply makes you even more teary-eyed. And you also get to see Carrie singing ‘Bridge over Troubled Water’ at 15, years before she met Paul Simon.