Review: Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher, at Home in ‘Bright Lights’ - The New York Times
New York Times
6th January 2017
Perhaps the documentary “Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds” would seem less poignant and compelling had its subjects not just died, or had they not died, stunningly, within a day of each other. But the movie’s plucky intimacy shines through that fog. It’s a portrait, not a tribute — though as the documentary reminds us, every portrait is in some way a tribute to something.
The film, directed by the actor Fisher Stevens and Alexis Bloom, debuts on HBO Saturday night after the cable network moved up its premiere from March. That decision is hard to begrudge. As this movie makes evident, these two were no strangers to making headlines.
Ms. Reynolds was well known to one generation for, in part, the tabloid bonanza surrounding her when her husband Eddie Fisher skipped out with her best friend, Elizabeth Taylor. Several other generations have grown up surrounded by all things Princess Leia, memorably played by Ms.
Fisher in the “Star Wars” films. “Bright Lights” finds mother and daughter living in separate houses in what they call “the compound. ” Ms.
Fisher takes a soufflé out of her oven and carries it on a tray down the path to her mother’s house. “I usually come to her,” Ms. Fisher says.
She pauses. “I always come to her. ” Who wouldn’t? She’s Debbie Reynolds, movie star and cabaret performer.
Ms. Reynolds rose to fame with cheery, wholesome roles, and even in her 80s could turn on that pert sunniness in a split second, so smoothly you’d never know it was an act — except that this is a documentary, and it includes the footage of just before this light clicks on. “It’s not my best day,” she sighs, sounding weary and a little as she and Mr.
Stevens discuss where exactly the camera will be. And then — bing! — there she is, as perky as a kindergarten teacher. Because the gently quirky celebrity documentary is an enjoyable if standardized format, the potency of “Bright Lights” sneaks up on you.
If it were just about its subjects’ huge, starry lives, that really would be enough for a documentary. But it also smartly, and subtly, pushes its audience to ask two of modern pop society’s central, uncomfortable questions: First, are famous people “real” people? And second, am I becoming my mother? By the time Mr. Stevens and Ms.
Bloom start filming, this almost cosmic between mother and daughter seems to have resolved itself to a wry but balanced mutual orbit. Though both women seem a little reluctant to admit it, the similarities between them abound. Ms.
Fisher’s house is decorated eclectically, with memorabilia and silly knickknacks everywhere. Ms. Reynolds’s collection is far more orderly: She was among Hollywood’s great archivists and had hoped to open a museum, but instead is resigned to auctioning off many of her pieces, including Marilyn Monroe’s famous dress from “The Seven Year Itch” and a pair of Judy Garland’s shoes from “The Wizard of Oz.
” “I like my ghosts,” she tells her daughter. Ms. Fisher is brainy and salty and hilarious, and she’s frank and eloquent in describing being bipolar.
We see both archival and footage of Ms. Fisher in manic phases, and she’s articulate, artful even, about her . “One mood is the meal the next mood is the check,” she says.
But she too knows how to flip the switch. She refers to her appearances at fan conventions as “the lap dance,” but engages with her fans nonetheless. A woman cries.
Little girls in their Princess Leia costumes beam. Their heroine gamely poses for photo after photo, signing every manner of memorabilia. It’s not so different, really, from her mother’s cabaret act.
That nightclub act comes up several times in “Bright Lights,” including footage of a Carrie being summoned to the stage to sing “Bridge Over Troubled Water. ” Her bold alto voice and sassy almost, but don’t quite, belie that she’s a barely cooperative teenager desperate to rebel. Ms.
Fisher says she rejected singing more or less to spite her mother. Six or so years after that nightclub performance, she married Paul Simon. You know.
The guy who wrote “Bridge Over Troubled Water. ” It’s all so Hollywood, so poetic, so dramatic. Despite their extraordinary circumstances, much of the family banter among Ms.
Reynolds her son, Todd Fisher and Ms. Fisher seems like ordinary talk. Adult siblings agonize over an aging parent’s finances and .
Mother and daughter have the same shoes. Brother and sister exchange knowing “well, that’s Mom” shrugs. There’s no people like show people, but Hollywood families are, somehow, still just families.
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