A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds stand side-by-side on a red carpet. The occasion is the third auction of the items in Reynolds' awe-inspiring collection of Hollywood memorabilia. A reporter asks, "What is it that connects you two off the red carpet?" Fisher answers, "We are always on a red carpet. We have red carpets connecting our homes." That last part is an exaggeration, but only slightly. Fisher and Reynolds lived next door to one another for decades. They took their red carpet with them wherever they went. The blessing and curse of fame. This unique relationship is the subject of “Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds," directed by Alexis Bloom and Fisher Stevens. It will be airing on HBO on Saturday night.
The documentary premiered at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, and then played at Telluride and the New York Film Festival, initially as a tender, human, and very, very funny portrait of Hollywood royalty. And then came the horrible news of Carrie Fisher's death at age 60 from a heart attack, and—before anyone had a chance to take a breath—the news of Reynolds' death at age 84. According to Todd Fisher, Carrie's brother, Reynolds said before dying that she "wanted to be with Carrie." "Bright Lights" now makes its HBO premiere directly into the immediate shock waves of industry and fandom grief.
"Bright Lights" opens with a montage of home movie footage: young Carrie and Todd Fisher in matching outfits, young Debbie Reynolds, with her husband Eddie Fisher (who, famously, left the family to marry Elizabeth Taylor), as Fisher and Reynolds have a conversation in voiceover. They bicker (Fisher: "This is getting so ugly so fast"), but in such a rapid-fire humorous way that it sounds like well-oiled schtick. It IS schtick, but it's not a retread of somebody else's tired routine. This routine is theirs, and theirs alone. Listening to it now is almost unbearably touching. There's a moment late in the film when Fisher and Reynolds, collapsed together on the couch, do a spoken-word version of "There's No Business Like Show Business," making it sound like an impromptu conversation. It's an extraordinary scene (not to mention hilarious), and an encapsulation of the relationship, the way they picked up on each other's cues via extra-sensory sensitivity, setting each other up for punch lines gracefully, like the two old pros that they were.
The documentary was shot mostly during 2014 and 2015, busy years for both women. (There's one extraordinary scene from 2010, when Fisher visits her father on his death bed.) Fisher was preparing to go film "Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens," working out with a trainer as per LucasFilm's request, and Reynolds—against her daughter's advice—was still booking gigs in Las Vegas and elsewhere, despite the fact that she was feeling ill. Reynolds received the SAG Lifetime Achievement Award during this time, and there was also the third auction of her gigantic Hollywood memorabilia collection, which she attended with her children.