A minute spent with Carrie Fisher is a minute spent entertained. As proved by Bright Lights, the up-close-and-personal documentary project of which Fisher is subject, no discernible fatigue by her compulsion toward the riotous and bawdy sets in when you string 95 of these minutes together. From beginning to end, Fisher has her audience, her documentarian, and everyone she comes into contact with onscreen efficient ensconced in her every word… many of which are quite suggestive, in one way or another.
In the four decades since Fisher’s breakout turn as Princess Leia, her second-ever feature role after backing up Hal Ashby’s Shampoo two years prior, she has become a veritable avatar of nerd-friendly celebrity. Whereas Luke Skywalker and Han Solo have effectively bled into the extra-textual personas of Fisher’s fellow Star Wars vets and pop culture icons Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford—Hamill is known across the internet for his sweet boyish charm, while Ford in downright notorious for curmudgeonly crust—quite the discrepancy has grown between she who we now herald as Senator Organa and the woman who brings her to life onscreen. To be concise, you’d never hear Leia cracking a joke about flatulence or cocaine. Or, I guess, death sticks.
There seem to be no waters in which Fisher won’t wade; her compulsion to crack wise functions less like a measure in defense than a marathon of vulnerability—this despite the habit having been born, by her own admission, from the yearning to win the love of her estranged father Eddie Fisher following her parents’ divorce. Throughout Bright Lights (and, as it seems, her ordinary day-to-day), Fisher welcomes the world into her highest joys and lowest sorrows with open arms. It should prove a thrill for any fan of the actress to get as close to her as the documentary allows.
Though distinct in personality, Fisher and Leia’s principal commonality is strength of character. You can credit the same to Debbie Reynolds, who—though as dissimilar in decorum from her daughter Carrie as is the supervisor of the active Resistance—is indeed a picture of spiritual vitality. Living just across the walkway of their shared California property, Debbie Reynolds is her daughter’s mighty foil. She is the epitome of old-fashioned show business: classy, clement, and eager to entertain others at her own expense. This proclivity translates to what you may call Bright Lights‘ primary conflict. The 84-year-old Reynolds books live show after live show, despite the ritual’s observable physical strain; on the sidelines (and occasionally right beside Debbie onstage), Fisher struggles to balance her concern for her aging mom and her reluctance to stand between her and her truest love.
Bright Lights asserts that Carrie and Debbie are all-important functions in one another’s lives. Early on in the movie, Carrie says outright that she is her mother’s best friend, and proves point and again in the narrative that she is her most devoted caretaker (though brother Todd Fisher is hardly out of the picture). So imbued with the theme of mothers and daughters is the film that I wish we’d have had the chance to see the other side of the equation—namely, what Carrie’s relationship with her own daughter looks like at present. She is mentioned once or twice but never explored or spoken about outright, presumably by choice. (Completely defensible, though curiosity looms.)
In lieu of the younger Fisher, we get screen time with plenty of other supporting characters in the Fisher/Reynolds realm: brother Todd, his wife Catherine Hickland, and her pet chicken; Carrie’s (now deceased) father Eddie and stepfather Harry Karl; the multitude of assistants charged with keeping the super-celebrities’ busy schedules running like clockwork; Debbie’s parents; Carrie’s childhood friend Griffin Dunne; and—best of all—the family dogs. All play a role in unraveling the Fisher/Reynolds narrative, in drawing back the curtain on the heartbreak of Debbie’s first divorce and on Carrie’s longtime tumult with bipolar disorder and drug abuse.
In the end, all we really learn from the doc is how these women relate to one another, as well as to their individual experiences with fame. Bright Lights may have no greater ambition than to better familiarize you with the lives and histories of and relationship between Carrie Fisher and her mother Debbie Reynolds. But there are worse ways to spend 95 minutes than in the company of two people you like, admire, and are enduringly charmed by.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 burritos.
Featured Image: HBO
Images: 20th Century Fox; MGM
Michael Arbeiter is the East Coast Editor of Nerdist. Find him on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter.