Confession time – I haven’t seen the original Star Wars. Sure I know the basic plot line and a few quotes and I’m pretty sure I could fake interest in it if I need to. But yeah, I’m not such a big Wookie, Princess Leia, Hans Solo sort of fan. So to me, Carrie Fisher was not Princess Leia. I knew her as the writer of Wishful Drinking, The Best Awful and my personal favorite, Postcards from the Edge.
She wrote brutally honest, hilarious memoirs about her drug-addiction, being bipolar and living with her superstar mom, Debbie Reynolds.
I was fascinated to discover that she was also an uncredited Hollywood script doctor for many years. She mainly edited scripts and wrote dialogue for women-protagonists. Star Wars, Sister Act, Hook, The River Wild, So I Married an Axe Murderer, These Old Broads – she doctored them all.
So, when news of her death popped up on my Twitter feed, I grieved for someone whom I had never met but had always admired.
The next day I found myself grieving again, this time for Carrie Fisher’s mom, Debbie Reynolds. I knew a lot about Debbie as an actress and I was aware that her personal scandal was one of the biggest Hollywood had ever seen. Her husband, Eddie Fisher left Debbie for her good friend Elizabeth Taylor. She was devastated but she kept going. She raised her children and married another couple of assholes. But each and every time she was down, she got back up. I thought that made her pretty inspiring.
A couple days after their death, it was announced that a documentary starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds would be pushed forward for release. Bright Lights follows their lives in what would be unknown to them, as the last year of their lives.
Bright Lights opens with Carrie Fisher walking down the front path of her house with a tray of food. It is for her mother who lives right next door. This struck me as so lovely because I knew that they had had a turbulent relationship in the past. The film doesn’t touch on their bumpy history much. I was aware of it after seeing an interview with the pair on Oprah in 2011. It was revealed that Debbie and Carrie didn’t talk for almost a decade.
In this candid documentary, they simply love and adore each other. Carrie takes on the role of the parent as her movie star mom slowly gives into age. But it’s clear that it’s hard for Debbie to give up her protective ways, even when her daughter is nearing 60.
Debbie’s continuous worry is particularly evident in a scene where she reminisces about her daughter’s battle with bipolar. Her voice breaks as she says “it takes all of us to assure her that she is loved.” I found that so telling and sad. It must be so hard to convince someone who battles with depression and self-doubt, that they are in fact so very loved.
Bright Lights beautifully delves into their past – from Debbie’s hit Singing in the Rain to Carrie’s break out role in Star Wars. But the core narrative of the film is centered on Debbie’s show in Vegas while preparing to receive her Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild.
In one poignant yet ordinary scene, Carrie rings Debbie from her car. She’s just spoken to the producers of the SAG Awards. Debbie is very ill leading up to the event and Debbie and Carrie have a conversation about her failing health. Carrie begins to cry. It broke my heart. It made me think, “they are just like the rest of us.” Everyone worries about their parents or children and it’s so gut-wrenching when they are in pain. It doesn’t matter if you are the most famous people in Hollywood – illness and aging don’t discriminate. Life’s cruelties happen to us all.
After watching Bright Lights, I now understand how Debbie died one day after her daughter. It seemed impossible for one to live without the other. No parent should watch their child die, and for Debbie Reynolds, the heartache was too much.
If you’re like me, an emotional nightmare with legs, then maybe you were upset with the passing of these two Hollywood legends.
If you were, did someone say to you, “God, you didn’t even know them, why are you so upset?” Well, Carrie and Debbie touched me. Actors stir something special. We bring them into our living rooms every night. We pay our hard-earned money to live their character’s story on the big screen. We identify with them. They feel familiar. Of course we are upset when they die.
The point is, we mourn their spirit and we mourn their art and we are allowed to. Carrie Fisher has an answer to our pain – “take your broken heart, make it into art”.
I did some writing today. I feel better already.