The one-time strained, occasionally strange, but loving bond between Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher, the Hollywood mother/daughter duo who passed away within a day of each other in December of 2016, is on Bright Lights, a film by Fisher Stevens and Alex is Bloom. The documentary doesn’t claim to, or try to be a full biography of the two women, but does end up being a fitting tribute, though that’s entirely accidental in Fisher’s case. The idea for the film had been Carrie’s; a way to preserve her mother’s legacy and their special relationship.
Cameras followed the pair in 2014-15, to capture them selectively, at home and work. Home is in Los Angeles, where both live next door to each other in a sprawling Beverly Hills compound, once owned by Bette Davis. The two visit each other daily, where they laugh, sing and eat together. As the film opens, Reynolds, now in her eighties, is preparing to do her stage show in Connecticut. Carrie voices concern about the energy it takes out of her mother, but Debbie, ever the professional, is determined to wear a fifty pound gold beaded dress and give her adoring fans the show they expect. “Age is horrible for all of us but she [Reynolds] falls from a greater height,” says Fisher. “It’s very frustrating for her because inside my mother is the same person and she does not want to retire.”
Always the star, Reynolds rarely let her guard down when the cameras were around, quick with a joke and prepared to break into song when necessary. Even when she takes a bad spill in her bathroom, resulting in severe bruising on her face, Reynolds soldiers on, strategically covering the damage with her hands. In contrast, while Fisher is aware of the camera, she is more naturally forthcoming, is open about her struggles with drugs and bipolar disorder. One of the funniest scenes in the film involves a visit from Fisher’s longtime friend actor Griffin Dunne, to whom she gives a pornographic clock.
Bloom and Stevens provide context, briefly exploring Reynolds career at MGM and her marriage to popular singer Eddie Fisher, which ended when he left Reynolds for her close friend Elizabeth Taylor. The ensuing scandal and Carrie’s desire for attention from her mostly absent father are discussed (a clip from 2010, featuring a very ill Eddie Fisher with his daughter, is particularly sad). Son/brother Todd turns up to offer his thoughts on growing up a child of Hollywood. He and his wife Catherine Hickland (who was once married to Knight Rider’s David Hasselhoff), show off their K.I.T.T. car from said show. Somehow, Todd, a producer and never an on camera person, comes across as a veteran showman.
Reynolds wanted both of her children to follow in her footsteps, “The biggest thing I did that broke my mother’s heart was not do a nightclub act,” Fisher said in the documentary. “My mother would say: ‘Do drugs, do whatever you need to do, but why don’t you sing?’ That was my big rebellion.” Clearly, Debbie didn’t hold a grudge. While their relationship may have been rocky at one point, Bright Lights paints a portrait of a mother and daughter with a deep understanding and undying love for each other.