Following the tragic deaths of Star Wars icon Carrie Fisher and her mother, Debbie Reynolds, the Oscar-nominated singer-actress, HBO took a tender look back at the women’s close relationship and their illustrious careers in the documentary Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds.
Though Bright Lights did spend some time reflecting on Fisher’s and Reynolds’ famous roles, directors Fisher Stevens and Alexis Bloom gave viewers access to the private rather than public aspects of their lives. This was done through an extensive archive of home videos and interviews, which give the audience a deeper insight into these women than one can glean from tabloids or movie screens.
Bright Lights’ focus on the intimate aspect of their relationship stripped away the typical glossy images of Fisher and Reynolds as international sensations and simply revealed them as people. Rather than regurgitating a record of their awards and distinctions, Stevens and Bloom crafted character studies that revealed the intelligence and strength of these women, who both shared a charm and sense of humor that made their interactions delightfully entertaining to watch.
By the end of the documentary, the audience is profoundly moved by the intensity of the mother-daughter relationship; although their personalities were vastly distinct (Fisher was blunt and outspoken whereas Reynolds embodied the “classy” persona of Old Hollywood), the women were tirelessly supportive of one another and shared a deep understanding. Bright Lights leaves viewers with an intimate portrait of the sweet and incredibly strong relationship between Fisher and Reynolds, best friends who also happened to be some of the world’s most renowned stars.
However, most of the downsides of Bright Lights occurred when the directors attempted to give the audience an overview of the lives of their distinguished subjects, which included looking back at both the highlights of their enormous careers and the major moments in their public lives. Because of the expanse of ground to cover, many parts of the film came across as rushed and perfunctory, as if the viewer were skimming a Wikipedia article of Fisher and Reynolds’s lives rather than getting to know them on a deeper level.
The storytelling of Bright Lights suffered due to this excess of material in other ways as well. Though parts of the documentary feel rushed, many others consist of padding that both needlessly increased the length of the film and diverted the viewer’s attention away from the most intriguing aspect of the film: the relationship between Fisher and Reynolds.
The scenes that revealed their intimacy — such as Fisher crying over her aging mother’s debilitation or the two sharing a conversation — are much more memorable than Fisher signing autographs or Reynolds’ showcase of Hollywood memorabilia. This failure of the filmmakers to select their footage more discerningly and to identify the meat of their subject led to a meandering narrative with an unfortunate lack of focus.
Though Bright Lights is often unfocused, the documentary is a gentle and sweet humanization of two global stars, remembering its subjects with fondness and revealing the best parts of their personalities. The HBO documentary allowed viewers to look back on Fisher and Reynolds not only as legendary performers, but also as human beings who loved and supported each other through the best and worst of times. For both their monumental talents and their loyalty to one another, they will be sorely missed.