The world was stunned when mother/daughter movie stars Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher died unexpectedly in late December. Fisher suffered a massive heart attack on December 23 and succumbed four days later. Reynolds passed the following day after a stroke. Some have speculated that Reynolds died of "broken heart syndrome."
The parent/child love story between Fisher and Reynolds has become the stuff of Hollywood legend. Both women endured a series of failed relationships and became each other's primary support system. They lived next door to each other. They took care of each other. Eventually they became intertwined as one.
Towards the end of Fisher and Reynolds' lives filmmakers Alexis Bloom and Fisher Stevens filmed a documentary about their extraordinary bond. "Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds" premiered to great acclaim in May 2016 at the Cannes Film Festival. Originally scheduled to air on HBO in March, the film will instead air on Saturday Jan. 7 at 8 p.m. as a tribute to the two actresses.
The unflinching honesty of the filmmakers--and of Reynolds and Fisher themselves--makes "Bright Lights" a profoundly emotional experience.
Reynolds lived for two things: her family and her work--she played to packed houses in Las Vegas for decades. Towards the end of her life, with her health failing her, she was advised to retire, but refused. Old and frail, Reynolds steps onto the stage at a resort in Connecticut. No longer able to dance, she sings and banters with her audience.
Backstage, after she receives a standing ovation, the camera shows Reynolds being helped down a flight of stairs she can no longer manage on her own. Reynolds allowed this to be filmed, a very brave thing to do for a woman who knew that that her earthly sojourn would soon be coming to an end.
Most of "Bright Lights" focuses on the deep mother/daughter connection which Reynolds and Fisher shared. Fisher, a recovering drug addict who was also diagnosed with bipolar disorder, speaks candidly about her battles with substance abuse and mental illness. Through the years Reynolds stood by her daughter's side--she loves Fisher every step of the way. Much later, as age related illness causes Reynolds to deteriorate rapidly, the roles are reversed--Fisher is afraid to leave town at one point out of concern for her mom's well-being. The camera follows them as they engage in the casual banter of their everyday lives. Almost like a couple, they start and complete each other's sentences.
Late in the film Fisher goes to visit her dad, the 1950s crooner Eddie Fisher, who threw his life and career away amidst a series of poor choices. The 1959 breakup of Fisher and Reynolds' marriage--he left her for Elizabeth Taylor--made tabloid headlines at the time.
The Eddie Fisher we see in "Bright Lights" is an old, sick and emaciated man, unable to get out of bed and barely recognizable. In a heartbreaking sequence, father and daughter say what is most likely their final goodbyes. They admit that in spite of all that happened between them, they still love each other.
Sometimes audiences forget that the people we see on screen are real people who have families and aspirations of their own. "Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds" breaks that fourth wall--first and foremost, this is a film about human beings who loved each other deeply. The film lets viewers know who Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds were behind closed doors after the adoring fans had gone home. The camera captures their joys, sorrows, weaknesses and strengths in an unflinching manner--few films, be they documentaries or scripted dramas, are as brutally honest or as emotionally riveting as this one.
"Bright Lights" will now stand forever as a memorial tribute to two of the most remarkable women that Hollywood has ever seen.
"Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds", will premiere on HBO on Jan. 7 at 8 p.m. It will also be available On Demand and for online viewing at Play.hbogo.com/
Also available is "Wishful Drinking,” Carrie Fisher's darkly comic one woman show about her life.