Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds

(USA 2016)

Married duo Fisher Stevens and Alexis Bloom’s Bright Lights is very much like the best pop songs from the ’80s: it’s a fun and vibrant affair with an underlying note of sadness that lingers throughout. With Bright Lights, set to air on HBO in Spring 2017, they offer an up close and personal look into the lives of Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher, neither of whom needs an introduction.

The story is built around a nightclub show Reynolds is putting together as a sort of farewell. Fisher is ever present to offer support, advice, and constructive criticism to her mother, who clearly is growing frail. They have a great rapport and a seemingly normal relationship despite their eccentricities: Reynolds is a workaholic and Fisher is, well, not. They live in their own homes on the same property, separated only by one small Hollywood hill. They spend their days together and seem to have a lot of fun. Their interactions are often amusing and kind of crazy (and I mean that in a good way). Not surprisingly, Fisher is a lot more animated and cheekier than her mother: she has a great chat with pal Griffin Dunne on her bed, where they discuss his deflowering her back in the day. She also shows us a Princess Leia sex doll she has and doesn’t know how to use.

It’s not all fun and games, though. Stevens and Bloom touch on the infamous split between Reynolds and ex-husband Eddie Fisher, who left her for Elizabeth Taylor, and the impact it had on both Fisher and her brother, Todd, who also makes an appearance. Fisher briefly discusses growing up in her mother’s shadow. She gets into her drug use, mental problems, and past relationship with Paul Simon. There’s a segment about Eddie Fisher’s death. There’s also the heartbreaking story of Reynolds’s ill-fated attempt at curating a museum of Hollywood artifacts; she reluctantly aborted her plan and auctioned off her acquisitions when it started to drain her finances.

Even though it seems both are playing to the camera a bit, Bright Lights delivers on showing a pretty well adjusted familial relationship. What struck me most about this documentary, though, is that for both Reynolds and Fisher, their best days—along with Hollywood’s—are behind them. A lot of dead legends are referenced here. Many viewers probably will regard Reynolds’s show, like all farewell tours, as an act of desperation; the fact that the fans at the shows are almost exclusively senior citizens drives home the point that this is literally the last leg of an era. A scene at the end that depicts Reynolds accepting a Screen Actors’ Guild lifetime achievement award demonstrates how frail she has become, and it’s tough to watch. Fisher earns a living making appearances at comic and memorabilia festivals where fans pay to have their picture taken with her; for all her flip irreverence, she’s very careful not to demean any of them.

Whether the filmmakers intended it, the failed Hollywood museum illustrates the idea that all good things must come to an end: the lights, as bright as they may be, eventually will turn down. Let’s hope, to steal the title of one of those aforementioned ’80s pop songs, that there is always something there to remind me.

Screening followed by a live Q and A with director Fisher Stevens.

95 minutes
Not rated

(AMC River East) C

Chicago International Film Festival

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