The 10 Most Emotionally Devastating Moments from Bright Lights

Courtesy of HBO

Documentarians Fisher Stevens and Alexis Bloom started filming mother/daughter team Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds back in April 2014, and used a year and a half of footage to weave a loving portrait of Hollywood royalty with the film Bright Lights. HBO decided to air the film earlier than intended in order to honor Fisher and Reynolds in the wake of their deaths, one day apart, at the end of December. That small scheduling decision effectively transforms what was already a poignant story into the perfect public elegy for these two women.

If you haven’t already, please check out Bright Lights on one of HBO’s various platforms. Once you have, here’s a rundown of the moments that are loaded with devastating significance.

Inside Jokes: According to Fisher and Bloom, Bright Lights was actually Carrie Fisher’s idea. The writer/actress wanted to pay homage to the fact that her mother was still working so many decades into her career. And so the film is bookended with footage of the 80-something Reynolds performing on stage. During one of her acts—which involves a combination of stand-up and singing—Reynolds says that Carrie once joked that after her parade of bad husbands, Eddie [Fisher] (who famously left her for Elizabeth Taylor) was starting to look like “the good one.” And if you’ve seen Carrie’s one-woman show Wishful Drinking, you might remember that Fisher dropped a nearly identical joke but claims it was her mother’s quip. It doesn’t really matter who originally came up with the joke—though one suspects it was Carrie. What matters is that these women share everything from soufflés to onstage banter.

Setting the Scene: One of the joys of Bright Lights is going inside the homes of Carrie Fisher, Todd Fisher, and Debbie Reynolds. The houses are crowded with oddities but one of the most charming, tiny details is the “Yes Dear” pillow that adorns a chair in Reynolds’s living room. If you’ve heard a single Debbie Reynolds impression—whether from daughter Carrie, granddaughter Billie Lourd, or Shirley MacLaine who played a fictionalized version of her in Postcards from the Edge—you’ll know the word “dear” is an essential component. Obviously somebody who knew Reynolds enough to tease her for that verbal tic got her that pillow.

Postcards from the Edge: Speaking of the 1990 film based on Fisher’s novel of the same name, there’s a fun little parallel between MacLaine’s character and Reynolds in Bright Lights. When the film co-starring Meryl Streep as the Fisher character first came out, both Reynolds and Fisher claimed it wasn’t very autobiographical at all. But in Bright Lights, Fisher admits that some elements of Postcards from the Edge “actually happened.” And as if there were any doubt, in Bright Lights we see Reynolds perform the Stephen Sondheim belter “I’m Still Here” which just happens to be the same showstopper MacLaine sings in Postcards. The song’s message—about enduring both a long career in show business and emotional devastation—couldn’t possibly be a more perfect anthem…