Movie News & Reviews

‘Bright Lights,’ playing at SLO film fest, highlights bond between Debbie Reynolds, Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher sings as her mother, Debbie Reynolds, smiles. The two are the focus of the HBO documentary “Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds,” screening March 15 as part of the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival.
Carrie Fisher sings as her mother, Debbie Reynolds, smiles. The two are the focus of the HBO documentary “Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds,” screening March 15 as part of the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival. Courtesy of HBO

Heartfelt, hilarious and at times tumultuous, the relationship between “Star Wars” actress Carrie Fisher and her equally famous mom, “Singin’ in the Rain” star Debbie Reynolds, boasted the kind of intimacy few mother-daughter duos could rival.

The two women — one an actress, author and mental health advocate known for her wry wit, the other a show-business legend with a perpetually sunny disposition — lived as next-door neighbors in Beverly Hills and died within a day of each other in late December.

“It was crystal clear that they had this connection,” said Central Coast filmmaker Todd Fisher, Debbie Reynolds’ son and Carrie Fisher’s younger brother.

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That profound bond is the focus of the HBO documentary “Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds.”

Fisher, who has a ranch in Creston, will be on hand for a screening of “Bright Lights” on Wednesday at the Fremont Theatre in downtown San Luis Obispo as part of the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival. After the screening, he’ll chat onstage with Variety editor Jenelle Riley about the film.

“It’s about the love of a family, and what every family goes through,” Fisher said of “Bright Lights,” which debuted Jan. 7 on HBO. “It becomes this really relatable film that deals with issues everybody deals with.”

According to Fisher, his sister came up with the idea for the film.

“Carrie originally came to me and said, ‘Let’s do a tribute-slash-legacy piece on Mom,’ ” Todd Fisher recalled. “I said, ‘If we’re going to do this, we really need an outside person to direct this.’ There was no way I needed to be in that role.”

Co-directors Alexis Bloom and Fisher Stevens came aboard to helm the project.

“They really understood the dynamics between my mom and sister,” Fisher said, and realized their relationship needed to be at the center of the film.

Filmed on and off over the course of a few years, “Bright Lights” blends extensive interviews with vintage video footage from the Fisher family’s archives.

The film finds Reynolds winding down her Oscar- and Tony Award-nominated career — taking the stage for a few final cabaret performances, auctioning off her extensive collection of Hollywood memorabilia, preparing to receive a 2015 lifetime achievement award from the Screen Actors Guild — as her daughter’s career once again ramps up.

We see Fisher, who wrote about her experiences behind the scenes of “Star Wars” in her 2016 memoir “The Princess Diarist,” preparing to return as iconic freedom fighter Princess Leia in 2015’s “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens.”

Todd Fisher also appears in “Bright Lights,” although he stays, per his preference, mostly in the background.

“These are my girls, and I have supported my girls for my whole life. I’ve watched this show for 60 years,” he said, referring to the antics of his mother and sister.

One scene in “Bright Lights” finds Carrie Fisher dealing with “a full-blown manic episode,” her brother said. While some people would have preferred to cut such difficult footage, Todd Fisher said he and his family decided to keep it in.

“I said, ‘This is the point of the movie,’ ” he recalled. “There’s one universal truth: You can get through it with love.”

In addition to serving as a sort of cinematic memorial for Carrie Fisher, who died Dec. 27 at age 60, and her 84-year-old mother, who died a day later, Todd Fisher said “Bright Lights” serves to highlight “how extraordinary both of them were.”

“I watched Mom be a gracious star while at the same time being a loving mother,” Fisher said.

“Hers was an admirable life. It was a life full of light and joy,” he said. “Yes, there were tough times, but look how gracefully she moved through the tough times.”

Fans could easily draw parallels between Reynolds, who weathered a series of romantic and economic hardships — her first husband, singer Eddie Fisher, left her for movie star Elizabeth Taylor, while another spouse, shoe manufacturer Harry Karl, gambled away most of her money — and the plucky title character in “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.”

“Maybe Carrie was an even bigger Molly Brown,” said Fisher, whose sister confronted her struggles with mental illness and drug addiction in frank, funny works such as the semi-autobiographical novel “Postcards from the Edge” and one-woman-show-turned-book “Wishful Drinking.”

“Here’s a girl who, in the face of adversity, rose above it, fought it and survived it … and not only survived it, but created amazing art,” he said.

Fisher finds it fitting that his sister and mother, who left behind a treasure trove of songs and stories, were able to collaborate once more in “Bright Lights.”

“They told their own stories, literally, before they left the planet,” he said.

‘Bright Lights’ screening

7 p.m. March 15

Fremont Theatre, 1035 Monterey St., San Luis Obispo

$12, $10 students and film society members

805-546-3456 or www.slofilmfest.org.

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