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This HBO Documentary Is Going to Break Our Hearts All Over Again Next Year

UPDATED 12/30/16: HBO has surprisingly decided to air Bright Lights: Starring Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher next weekend, January 7th to be exact. Original article follows:

2016 has now officially been the year written by George R.R. Martin. This year from hell has capped off its seemingly endless wave of devastating deaths of beloved figures with the tragic one-two punch of taking Carrie Fisher one day and her mother Debbie Reynolds the next. Inevitably, the parting of one of Hollywood’s more famous mother-and-daughter combos raises several questions, such as whether or not Carrie had completed work on Star Wars: Episode VIII yet (she had), who’s going to take care of Carrie’s adorable French bulldog Gary (her daughter Billie will) and what will HBO do with Bright Lights now.

Actually, that last question might not exactly be on the tip of your tongue yet, but it soon will be. Bright Lights, full title Bright Lights: Starring Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher, is a documentary co-directed by Alexis Bloom and Fisher Stevens. Think of it as the documentary answer to Mike Nichols 1990 film Postcards from the Edge in which Merly Streep and Shirley MacLaine played thinly fictionalized versions of Fisher and Reynolds, the story based on Fisher’s own book and screenplay. Bloom and Stevens followed Reynolds and Fisher around and talked to them for a good chunk of the year in 2015, leaning on their Lorelei-and-Emily-Gilmore-esque rapport as well as a vast supply of the family’s personal home videos to carry the day. As The Hollywood Reporter noted from the film’s world premiere at Cannes earlier this year:

While the directors can very occasionally be heard throwing in a prompt question, the film foregoes any binding narration, instead simply coaxing Reynolds, Fisher, and to a lesser extent, the latter’s brother Todd to reflect on their lives and careers. That makes it far from linear, as key chapters are touched upon, often resurfacing later at random, with little concern for chronological structure. But the relaxed feel of the access keeps it warmly engaging, and the tremendous affection evident from the filmmakers for their subjects is quite contagious.

At the time of Bright Lights’ premiere, it was scheduled to premiere on HBO sometime in early 2017, but after Fisher and Reynolds’ deaths HBO Documentary Films president Sheila Nevins told Variety the network is now mulling over the appropriate time to air the documentary. This is partially out of due respect to the family but also out of consideration for the parts of the documentary which might now make for upsetting viewing. As THR’s review noted:

In the final 15 minutes or so, a moving element of tension is introduced to provide a climax as Reynolds is due to receive the 2015 Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award, and her physical frailty puts her attendance at the ceremony in doubt. The resulting anxiety of Fisher, who suffers from bipolar disorder, spirals into a manic episode, which is quite emotional to witness. “You know what would be really good?” she muses wearily. “To get to the end of my personality and just lie in the sun.”

Reynolds was so fragile she refused to be filmed for the documentary on one day of particularly poor health. Elsewhere in the Bright Lights, Fisher openly flaunts her stubborn refusal to give up smoking and drinking endless cans of Coca-Cola despite her studio-mandated trainer’s protestations. At one point, the trainer even pours her supply of Coca-Cola down the drain, leading Fisher to later quip, “My question is, if you die when you’re fat, are you a fat ghost, or do they go back to a more flattering time?”

You can see where a joke like that now has an extra layer of meaning to it.

However, the majority of the documentary is a fascinating tribute to a mother-daughter relationship which once deteriorated to the point that Carrie barely talked to Debbie during her final teenage years and built back up so strongly throughout Carrie’s adulthood that they eventually lived next door to one another. There’s even a scene in Bright Lights of Carrie taking the short stroll to her mother’s house next door where they proceed to ”share a soufflé that they simultaneously feed their dogs.”

As Nevins told Variety, “Carrie wanted to make Bright Lights for Debbie and Debbie wanted to make it for Carrie. If this was a Hollywood script, no one would believe it. They just loved each other so much. The bond was just unbreakable.”

So, while it will be understandably emotional to see Fisher in what will now be her final outing as Princess Leia (now General Organa) in Episode VIII it might be even more emotionally devastating to see Carrie being herself with her beloved mother in what turned out to be one of their final years together on this Earth. When Bright Lights will air remains to be seen but it is now one of the biggest curiosities of 2017, for obviously tragic reasons.

For more about Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds’ relationship, check out my recent article listing the things I learned about them from watching Postcards from the Edge and Fisher’s 2010 HBO Special Wishful Drinking.

Source: THR, Variety


    1. Thanks for commenting. I can offer you this update: HBO has surprisingly announced today it will now air this documentary next weekend, January 7th to be exact. It was originally scheduled for March.

      1. I’m a little stunned, but the woman in charge of HBO Docs was good friends with Carrie after the two worked together on Wishful Drinking in 2010. They even had a handshake agreement to produce a Wishful Drinking sequel, for Carrie to probably do another one woman show with updated material and HBO would be on hand one night to film it. However, they only entered into that agreement like 8 days ago meaning they weren’t that far along. Either way, I don’t think HBO is attempting to exploit this tragedy with this ultra early air date but instead to celebrate their lives by airing what is ultimately Carrie’s love letter to her mom and Debbie’s love letter to her daughter.

      1. Agreed. I am not necessarily surprised they moved it up from the original March dead they planned, but to move it up several months and drop it more or less a week after Carrie and Debbie died is pretty stunning. As I said in another comment, this might seem cold and opportunistic, but based on how close the President of HBO Docs was to Carrie I am interpreting this as her effort to celebrate Carrie and Debbie’s life and offer an ultimate tribute as fast as possible. The dual funeral will surely will be this week, and the doc will be the celebratory wake over the weekend. Or at least that’s how I am choosing to look at it because every other part of me wants to say this is too soon and a heartless network looking to cash in.

      2. That is what I’m hoping as well. Plus, I’m sure the family gave them permission to move up the date. They all have been so open about Carrie Fisher’s battles with mental illness and her health.

      3. I would also assume as much about the family, particularly since Carrie’s brother Todd is also in the doc with Carrie and Debbie. He probably gave them the green light. I think I just assumed the filmmakers might go back in and add some stuff to acknowledge Carrie and Debbie’s deaths, which they very well may have already in the simple form of text on the screen at the start or end of the movie.

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