Bright Lights is a documentary that focuses on Debbie Reynolds and Carrier Fisher, both as stars in their own right and their mother-daughter dynamic. Rather than constructing a clear arc or narrative, the story touches on several interesting points of their lives. Through the course of the film I often found myself wanting to know more, partly because the story is inherently intriguing but also because the filmmakers did not dwell enough on any specific aspect. For example, studio MGM taught its stars how to act but also how to be “on” at all times, something that has clearly stuck with Debbie Reynolds her whole life. She is from a time that no longer exists, one focused on being present and attentive rather than obsessed with shares and likes.
Another aspect of the documentary worth mentioning is the fact that Reynolds was an avid collector and has amassed an extensive collection including Judy Garland’s iconic costume from The Wizard of Oz (ed. something touched on by our friend Morgan White’s documentary The Slippers). There is something quite sad about the fact that it had to be auctioned offer rather than in a museum like Reynolds had dreamed. I hope, if anything, this film implores someone to fulfill Reynold’s wishes. Her legacy is augmented through Bright Lights, though, and this is a relatively difficult task to achieve in documentary format.
Since both were in the entertainment industry, there’s a wealth of footage and visual documentation. Rare footage of Carrie as a teen fills out the film, but it’s the times that Fisher is vulnerable, especially in relation to her mother, that Bright Lights is at its best. In fact, there’s a vague Beales of Grey Gardens quality to their relationship. They live in different houses on the same compound, Debbie appeared to rely a lot on Carrie and vice versa and they seem to have been in their own world – one markedly happier than the Beales.
Much of what makes Bright Lights interesting to watch is its two famous subjects, but the film doesn’t spend enough time ruminating on what makes them interesting and instead – to its detriment – opts to cover two lifetimes in 90+ minutes. That being said, Bright Lights is still worth watching. It’s a fascinating expose into the lives of two separately unique characters whose well-charted dynamic is given the most weight in the film.
Bright Lights airs Saturday, January 7 at 8 pm ET on HBO Canada