How lucky we are that Alexis Bloom and Fisher Stevens turned the cameras on the extraordinary bond between Carrie Fisher & Debbie Reynolds.
For this HBO doco the directors reportedly had to encourage Reynolds not to turn on her Hollywood persona, but to let the camera capture the natural interplay between mother and daughter. The access is extraordinary, making for some unmissable scenes.
The two live side by side, one from Hollywood’s old school glamour, and another a rebel afflicted by her demons. But both are joined at the hip, sharing memories, bickering, singing, holding the hand of the other through adult life.
Fisher, constantly drinking Coke, remains witty, alert and raucous. She juggles Star Wars fan conventions, complains about losing weight for the next George Lucas instalment, and gives candid interviews about growing up in the spotlight and hating it.
Reynolds is surrounded by her Hollywood memorabilia (for which she became additionally-famous), constantly performing cabaret shows, worries about her appearance and, frankly, worries about Carrie.
Son Todd Fisher is also there, adding some family perspective to the women in his life, and notably to dad Eddie Fisher, who scandalously abandoned Debbie for Elizabeth Taylor (there is gob-smacking footage of Eddie in 2010, 3 months before his death). But even Todd has his own eccentricities -his wife owns a Knight Rider car and has an “emotional wellness chicken.”
Occasionally cameras are not allowed into Reynolds’ home on her bad (health) days, but audio suggests it can be a struggle just to get through the day. It’s the moments in between interviews that provide the most insight, such as a house alarm going off mid-chat. While everyone runs around trying to shut off the deafening noise, Reynolds keeps smiling, oblivious to its purpose, let alone the all-important code they need.
It all culminates in Reynolds’ Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild. Simply getting her to the venue is a saga in itself, but Fisher fights back tears to get mother to the podium and introduce her.
I couldn’t help but recall the extraordinary Grey Gardens doco about a bizarre mother / daughter. This doesn’t come with any of their dilapidation or hoarding, but it’s pure Hollywood eccentricity. And like their story, this one is also ripe for a stage musical -with better songs.
I didn’t get any insight into Fisher’s romantic history, unless you count Coke and her dog, but it’s a minor flaw in an otherwise compelling doco.
Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher & Debbie Reynolds helps us understand why Debbie wanted to go, as Todd told us, so quickly after Carrie. And it assures us their bond is unbroken.
Don’t miss it.
12pm Sunday January 8 on Showcase.