Entertainment & Life

HBO’s ‘Bright Lights’ illuminates the Debbie Reynolds-Carrie Fisher relationship

Carrie Fisher as an infant with mom Debbie Reynolds
Carrie Fisher as an infant with mom Debbie Reynolds Fisher Family Archives/courtesy of HBO

If you have or had a mother, or a daughter, or a father, or a son, you are likely to blubber through “Bright Lights,” the Debbie Reynolds-Carrie Fisher documentary premiering on HBO at 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 7.

But don’t. You will miss part of the show, and Reynolds would not want that.

Reynolds, the “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Unsinkable Molly Brown” star, died from a stroke at age 84 on Dec. 28, a day after her daughter, “Star Wars” actress and author Fisher, died at 60. Fisher suffered a heart attack days before on an airplane.

In response to their deaths, HBO moved up the play date of “Bright Lights,” a documentary focused on their relationship that had already played film festivals.

Fisher documented her showbiz childhood, and struggles with substance abuse and mental illness, at length, most famously in the semi-autobiographical novel “Postcards From the Edge,” which became a film with Meryl Streep, and Shirley MacLaine as her spotlight-stealing mother.

“Lights,” made by director/actor Fisher Stevens and Alexis Bloom from archival footage and recent interviews with mother and daughter in the Beverly Hills compound they shared, shows how the relationship had gentled, and how, later in Reynolds’ life, Fisher was her closest companion. In the film, Fisher happily yields the spotlight to Reynolds, who was taught as a teen by MGM how to comport herself within it.

Reynolds tears up in “Lights” when discussing how Fisher – who shows a strong singing voice in footage from when she performed in Reynolds’ nightclub act as a teen – never pursued music. This is as close to revealing as Reynolds will get with a camera trained on her. But she’s always poised, even when a house alarm goes off during a sit-down interview. Director Stevens runs out of the frame to see what is going on, but Reynolds stays in position, not wanting to ruin the shot.

Reynolds still played nightclubs in her 80s. The film shows her driving a motorized scooter through a casino to a venue where Fisher and her producer brother, Todd, will help with the act. Carrie sings, and Reynolds beams. Though the family mostly expresses concern about show logistics in this sequence, the unspoken love and trust exchanged among them is palpable.

“Lights” is ultimately more observational than intimate, since even the famously open-book Fisher seemed too concerned with her mother’s legacy to let anything hang out. But observation is enough to make the film poignant at its lightest, and terribly sad otherwise. Because we know the postscript, and it is as intimate as it gets.

Bright Lights

Streaming on HBO Go and HBO Now

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