Bright Lights: Starring Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher
Will air on HBO, Saturday, January 7th, 2016
HBO/Bloomfield Pictures 97 minutes Documentary
Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher were a mother/daughter team joined at the hip, not literally, but spiritually and lovingly. They even died one day apart, Debbie saying she wanted to be with her daughter before having a stroke at the age of 84.
Incredibly, we were able to see this touching and sensitive inside look at the lives and the loving relationship of Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher just 2 months before they both tragically passed away. And we were able to interview Director Fisher Stevens at the Chicago International Film Festival about making the film. (See Interview here)
Stevens told us that last year, Carrie asked he and his partner, Director Alexis Bloom to do a film about her mother who was becoming frail but preparing to do a final performance and receive the SAG (Screen Actors Guild) Lifetime Achievement Award. Carrie wanted to show how dedicated her mother was to her craft, even in her 80’s. At one point in the film, Carrie says she’s tried to talk her mother from performing but, with humor, likens her to a Tsunami calling her “Tsu-mommy.” You can’t stop her.
Director Stevens said he was surprised by Reynolds commitment to performing saying “I didn’t know what a professional Debbie Reynolds was, even at 82 years old, just what a trouper she was, just an absolutely beautiful woman, too.”
But Stevens says the film, which premiered at Cannes this year, is really a tribute to the closeness of their family. That includes Carrie's brother Todd, also the son of Debbie and Eddie Fisher. He too, is involved in the family business, working with his mother and producing/directing for TV and film. There is a memorable scene where the three of them are seated on a couch in Debbie’s living room and they are bantering back and forth. They then join in singing together. It’s charming and touching, showing how close they were.
There is plenty of archival footage of both women’s careers as well as their personal lives through home movies. This was a mother/daughter team that had a rocky relationship at times over the years for so many reasons ranging from their relationships with men, to how they handled Hollywood fame and fortune. But they truly loved and respected each other especially as both got older and depended upon each other. Director Stevens says they often finished each other’s sentences and what he shows behind-the-scenes is often very entertaining. Many times they’re sharp, clever and downright funny.
But you can see where their careers caused some friction. Debbie and Carrie both achieved stardom at the age of 19 in films that became classics. Reynolds was a triple threat who could act, sing and dance in Singing in the Rain and Oscar nominated for The Unsinkable Molly Brown.
Fisher will always be known for her role as Princess Leia in the Star Wars films spanning decades. They each had their own personal battles, Debbie with a huge public scandal when Eddie Fisher left her for her best friend, superstar actress Elizabeth Taylor. Carrie was deeply affected by her late father’s infidelity and they were estranged for a time. She visits him near the end, when he’s very sick and it’s a sad scene.
Carrie battled self image, weight, drugs, depression and being in the shadow of her Mom from an early age. She explains in the film that when she married singer/songwriter Paul Simon, she basically lost her identity in a crowd of his famous friends whom she considered far more talented than she was. The film shows why and how she became a successful writer. Postcards from the Edge is one of our favorites made into a film starring Meryl Streep. It’s autobiographical and Debbie wanted to play herself as Carrie’s mother, but Director Mike Nichols said she was not right for the part! He hired Shirley MacLaine instead.
Stevens and Bloom not only capture Reynold’s last big show, but Debbie and Carrie’s joint acceptance at the SAG Lifetime Achievement Awards. And they show how the mother and daughter lived next door to each other in Beverly Hills with just a walkable hill separating them. You see Carrie with her beloved black French bull dog, Gary, in the kitchen cooking for her mother and walking it over. They are both smart, sharp, bicker playfully and play off each other with clever repartee. It’s a curious dynamic Stevens was able to get on camera.
The director says there were a few times when Debbie asked to stop the camera, just when she wasn’t feeling well. Stevens says seeing this film is also an opportunity to meet the son we really didn’t know about. Now, because both died so suddenly, Todd and Carrie’s daughter, actress Billy Lourd (TV’s Scream Queens and Star Wars: The Force Awakens) have been pushed into the bright lights.
This is an extraordinary documentary and it is only fitting that in their final film, Carrie and Debbie star together.