[12 September 2011]
Carrie Fisher walks across a stage, sprinkling her audience with glitter and singing Happy Days Are Here Again as newsreels announcing the demise of her famous parents’ marriage flash on a screen behind her. Tragedy plus time, Fisher wisely notes, has brought her to the realization that the things which caused great pain years ago “can no longer do you any harm.”
This philosophy, and the idea of surviving adversity by laughing at it, is the theme of Fisher’s Wishful Drinking, a one-woman show based on her 2008 memoir. Fisher involves her audience, pokes fun at Star Wars merchandise made in her likeness as Princess Leia, and often sits leisurely on a cozy chair as if she’s gossiping with a dear friend.
And she really dishes the dirt. Fisher begins with an insider’s view of a major Hollywood scandal: her parents’ 1959 divorce, when her singer father (Eddie Fisher) abruptly dropped her actress mother (Debbie Reynolds) for the legendary Elizabeth Taylor. To enlighten those who might be unfamiliar with the magnitude of this event, Fisher rightly compares Eddie Fisher to Brad Pitt, Reynolds to Jennifer Aniston, and Taylor to Angelina Jolie. It was that big.
To make things worse, Reynolds and Fisher had been pals with Taylor and her husband, movie producer Mike Todd. They had even named their son after Todd, although naming a child for a living person went against Fisher’s Jewish faith which warned that doing so would cause bad luck. “Silly superstition,” Carrie Fisher says with a wry grin before describing what happened between her father and Taylor subsequent to Todd’s death in a plane crash. Eddie Fisher flew to Taylor’s side, “gradually making his way to her front.”
Taylor soon ditched Eddie Fisher for Richard Burton, but “my father was never alone for long,” Fisher says, recounting his string of marriages. She also talks about his numerous face lifts and his marijuana habit, and she draws a Freudian parallel between her father and her relationship with Paul Simon, also “a short, Jewish singer” whom Fisher wistfully refers to as “a magic person.” Some of Simon’s songs were inspired by Carrie Fisher, including a lyric describing her as a woman “who had been damaged the most.”
Most of this damage was inflicted during Fisher’s early life and led to substance abuse exacerbated by bipolar disorder. But Fisher manages to morph depression, memory deficit from electroconvulsive therapy, stints in a mental hospital, and lost love into droll humor. Her comedic sense might have been influenced by her mother, whose amusing comments Fisher frequently quotes. Fisher describes Reynolds as “eccentric,” and claims that after splitting from two husbands who bankrupted her, Reynolds called Eddie Fisher “the good husband.”
Indeed, Wishful Drinking has much to do with Fisher’s parents, and she admits that she often longed for the attention they easily drew. But Fisher came to see that celebrity is merely “obscurity biding time,” and says that she watched her mother and father—two glimmering stars—“dim, cool, and fade.”
Fisher’s clever wit, sharp insights, and gift of extracting humor from misfortune make Wishful Drinking as uplifting as it is entertaining. A few jokes fall flat but the rest hit their marks, especially Fisher’s lesson in “Hollywood Inbreeding 101”, her explanation of why George Lucas wouldn’t let her wear a bra as Princess Leia (“There’s no underwear in space”), and her anecdotes about the making of Star Wars, the title of which, Fisher’s friends have joked, sounds like “a fight between my parents.”
The DVD contains deleted scenes and a touching interview with the lovely Debbie Reynolds—who, at 78, maintains her Hollywood glow. She chats about her career, her marriages, her dinner guests (Bette Davis, Groucho Marx, Jack Benny) who might have had an impact on Fisher’s flair for the dramatic and comedic, and she speaks both proudly and sadly of her daughter. She cherishes a stuffed Star Wars character given to her by a fan, she is brought to tears when discussing Fisher’s bipolar disorder and memory loss, and she shares scrapbooks and photo albums that she makes “so Carrie can remember.”