Fans of Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher will see a moving glimpse of their unique mother-daughter relationship in the new HBO documentary Bright Lights — a heartbreaking, funny portrayal of a fierce, familial love that weathered the darkest of storms. Addiction, adultery, fame, despair — Bright Lights has it all, because, of course, so did Reynolds and Fisher.
The film, which debuted at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, was originally set to premiere on the cable network in March, but following the stars’ deaths last week — Fisher at age 60, Reynolds one day later at age 84 — Bright Lights will air on HBO this weekend.
“This documentary is an intimate portrait of Hollywood royalty in all its eccentricity,” HBO said in a statement about the film, which HBO Documentary Films president Sheila Nevins previously called a “love story” between the two women. “Carrie wanted to make Bright Lights for Debbie and Debbie wanted to make it for Carrie,” Nevins told Variety.
Ahead, preview the most revealing moments from Bright Lights.
“Age. It’s horrible for us”
Bright Lights opens in Fisher and Reynolds’ shared compound, with Fisher preparing a soufflé to take over to her mother’s house just up the hill. With her fabulous, famous dog, Gary, in tow, Fisher helps Reynolds pack a suitcase for her mother’s one-woman show at Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun. Ever a star, Reynolds won’t stop getting on stage even if the dress weighs more than she does and the venue isn’t totally sold-out.
They banter about age and mortality — “Age. It’s horrible for us!” Fisher claims — and old footage rolls, showing Fisher and her brother, Todd, as children in Beverly Hills. Inside their homes, it’s like Fisher and Reynolds speak their own language, breaking into inside jokes and songs at every other beat, revealing a closeness not even other family members can breach.
Rollicking Roy and Sediment Pam
Fisher’s written and spoken about her drug use and mental illness at length, but Bright Lights touches on these issues as if they’re just footnotes to the real story. On substances, Fisher says, “I went too fast. I was too much, and I was embarrassed of it. The drugs I liked were painkillers. They calmed me down. [Todd] just couldn’t handle it. I didn’t know what it was!”
And about her bipolar disorder, which she was diagnosed with at 29, Fisher describes her manic and depressive episodes while old footage of her running through the Great Wall of a China with a boom box and dancing with strangers, plays. “Roy is rollicking Roy,” she says of her dueling personas, “the wild ride of a mood. Pam is sediment Pam, who stands on the shore and sobs. One mood is the meal, the next mood the check.”
Later in the doc, Fisher tells the camera she’s manic while getting her nails done at home. She makes her own glitter blends and rubs them on her and the nail technicians’ faces. “You are f—ing amazing,” one tells her. At her rawest, most vulnerable moment, she turns to the camera. “You know what would be so cool?” Fisher asks. “To get to the end of my personality. And just like lay in the sun. I’m sick of myself.”
A Galaxy Far, Far Away
The Star Wars franchise looms large in Bright Lights as Fisher attends what she calls a “celebrity lap dance” — a Star Wars convention where she signs Leia memorabilia and takes photos with fans — and points out the Princess Leia sex doll she keeps at home. “They love her and I am her custodian,” she says of Leia.
But even as we travel with Fisher to London where she gets ready for The Force Awakens, working with a trainer to shed the pounds she said was demanded by Lucasfilm, Star Wars is not the focus. Anecdotes about her time on set pale in comparison to the hilarious stories she swaps with a dear old friend, Griffin Dunne, to whom she lost her virginity.
“He relieved me of the burden of my hymen,” she says. She also jokes about Reynolds’ approach to her daughter’s sex life: “My mother offered for me to have sex with this guy Albert,” Fisher tells Dunne. “And she would supervise me and Albert having sex.”
Farewell, Old Hollywood
Bright Lights also chronicles the great loss of Reynolds’ life: her collection of old Hollywood memorabilia. Having owned relics like Marilyn Monroe’s white subway dress from The Seven Year Itch and Charlton Heston’s tunic from Ben Hur, Reynolds dreamed of opening a Hollywood memorabilia museum, but could never find a business partner. Instead, she was forced to sell off much of the collection, which ultimately went for more than $30 million. Here, we see scenes from a 2014 auction, where she frets over selling the Rat Pack’s original costumes. The moment hammers home what Reynolds says in the beginning of the film: “I’m like the old days.”
Meeting Eddie Fisher
Perhaps the most jarring moment comes when Fisher goes to meet her father, the legendary singer Eddie Fisher — who left Reynolds for Elizabeth Taylor in 1959 — in his home in Berkeley Hills, three months before his 2010 death. Those who remember the singer in his prime will find little to recognize during the reconciliatory moment. Juxtaposed with old footage, it’s a reminder of the film’s overarching theme: that age and time attack everyone, no matter how fully a life was lived.
Debbie Reynolds’ long goodbye
Reynolds’ own health worsens during the doc’s filming, and both Fisher children worry aloud about their mother. At one point, Reynolds won’t allow the cameras to come inside and we hear the scene only through Carrie Fisher’s mic. Reynolds offers hits of oxygen to the group in a moment of levity.
Reynolds books a final one-woman show in Las Vegas, where she’s shown scootering around the casino floor. Fisher joins her on stage and the Hollywood icon bids adieu with a farewell kiss blown to the crowd.
Later, Reynolds is shown preparing to accept the 2015 SAG Life Achievement Award. Fisher negotiates with the Screen Actors Guild staff, trying to find a place for her mother to rest during the show, “somewhere that’s not embarrassing,” and breaks down during a walk-thru as she discusses Reynolds’ failing health.
In a limo on the way to the show, Reynolds recites the name of the award, annoyed that she can’t totally place everything. But up on stage, accepting the honor from her daughter, she’s a pro, her MGM studio training on display six decades later. Stars like Julia Roberts, Viola Davis, and Meryl Streep look on with total adoration.
“I can’t be funny about tonight. It was too special”
Bright Lights winds down back at home, with the two women discussing the night. Reynolds relaxes on the couch with her children by her side as they joke about their ages, their lives, their careers. The moment is precious and a lifetime in the making. “If they offer you another life achievement award would you do it?” Fisher jokes. And Reynolds’ says, “I can’t be funny about tonight. It was too special.”
Bright Lights premieres Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on HBO.