The grieving process is different for everyone. That’s also true when it comes to mourning the death of a celebrity we’ve come to know and love. I admit that it took me a few days to get through HBO’s Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. The unintentional delay materialized mainly because of the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. HBO originally scheduled the documentary for early March, but the programmer clearly wanted to use this glimpse into their lives to help us achieve closure with the two icons.
The relationship between Fisher and Reynolds received heavy publicity for years. This familial saga featured hilariously in Fisher’s book (and eventual stage version), Wishful Drinking, but Bright Lights takes us into their homes as they prepare for several events. They talk to us about their legacy and how they got started in show business, and they constantly talk about each other. It’s sort of like a sanitized version of Grey Gardens with a respectable Hollywood gloss. The timeline bounces around as if we were looking at different photo albums on a lazy Saturday afternoon.
Even though it mainly focuses on the relationship that Fisher and Reynolds shared in their final years, the doc doesn’t shy away from the events that got them there. Carrie (as always) is very open about her introduction to drugs. Brother Todd Fisher details that they started smoking pot together, but she moved on to harder stuff. “I went too fast. I was too much,” Fisher says as video of her younger self plays.
Bright Lights is, ultimately, a tough watch. Christmas trees loom in the background of certain moments, reminding us of the yuletide time of year when both women lost their lives. There are many mentions of death and letting go. Towards the end, the documentary features a shot of Reynolds blowing a kiss to the camera as the sound in the back fades to almost silence. It’s eerie and sad and heartbreaking. As a whole, Bright Lights manages to pay homage to both of its subjects. It doesn’t hide painful memories or complicated moments. It revels in these two women. They are two halves of each other that are now at peace.