Movie Review: Bright Lights: Starring Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher (2016)

Posted: January 28, 2017 in Documentary
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Debbie Reynolds was a star when Hollywood created stars who were larger than life.  She burst onto the scene at age 19 as Kathy Selden in Singin’ in the Rain.  She had a hit song with Tammy in the movie Tammy and The Bachelor, she won an Oscar for The Unsinkable Molly Brown.  Debbie Reynolds met and married crooner Eddie Fisher and had two kids, Carrie and Todd.  If her life was a movie, she would have lived happily ever after, but real life is not a movie.  Eddie Fisher had an affair with Debbie’s friend Elizabeth Taylor, and left Debbie brokenhearted,  Debbie had no luck with men, but continued making movies and touring with her daughter, Carrie.

Carrie Fisher became a star in a very different Hollywood, she made her first appearance in the movie Shampoo, but became a household name in the Star Wars films.  After the massive success of the Star Wars films, she became an author of biographical books like Postcards From The Edge, and a one woman show called Wishful Drinking.  She came back to her iconic role of Princess Leia in The Force Awakens.  This documentary explores the relationship between the iconic mother-daughter duo, who were estranged for a long time, but eventually lived next door to one another.

This documentary should have been a happy documentary, about the girl next door, who survived multiple heartbreaks to laugh and sing and defy the people who wrote her off, and her daughter, whose gritty sense of humor was the key to her survival instinct.  But this is not a happy documentary, it’s a bittersweet documentary, because Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher died one day apart late last year, and that sadness hangs over this documentary like a pall.  The fact that this documentary was rushed to HBO days after the pair died, adds to the discomfort.

The documentary also seems to lack focus.  It jumps from Debbie Reynolds’ career, to Carrie Fisher’s career to Debbie Reynolds’ movie memorabilia collection to Carrie Fisher’s begrudging participation in a sci-fi convention.  What makes this documentary worth watching is both mother and daughter’s incredible sense of humor, and Debbie Reynolds’ tireless love of touring. She was indefatigable, performing until nearly the day she died. Debbie Reynolds loved show business, and that was obvious. I learned that Carrie Fisher had an incredible singing voice, she could have been a singer, but as her mother said, Carrie “didn’t want to be Debbie Reynolds or Eddie Fisher.”  The most important lesson from this documentary is one that all adult children eventually learn.  At one point, the child becomes the adult and the caretaker of the parent.  And Carrie Fisher handles that role lovingly.  The documentary ends on a high note, and leaves the viewer with warm feelings.

Bright Lights:  Two stars continue to shine.


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