Hollywood is littered with the carcasses of Hollywood wannabes – starlets and has-beens who couldn’t weather the tough grind of celebrity. For Carrie Fisher, the road was particularly tawdry and controversial because not only was her family life pretty spectacular (dad was Eddie Fisher, mom is Debbie Reynolds), but her stepfamily was also pretty noteworthy (one of her stepmoms was Elizabeth Taylor and another was Connie Stevens). It’s also important to note that her own life – Star Wars, being married to Paul Simon, her drug addiction – is tempestuous enough to fill up the tabloids.
But Carrie Fisher is nothing if not a survivor, and she’s a sage, as well. And a comedienne. Known in the entertainment industry for her withering wit and sardonic humor, Fisher is great at looking at the mess that is her family history and making astute and funny observations. Aside from her healthy career as an actress, she also had a side career as Hollywood’s answer to Dorothy Parker. Her novels, including Postcards from the Edge were tart send ups of American celebrity and its pitfalls and absurdities. She writes what she knows.
In Wishful Drinking, her one-woman show filmed for HBO, Fisher talks about the various demons that marked her life, as well as, some of the ridiculous matrimonial details of her family life. It makes for an entertaining show because the star is candid and without an ounce of vanity.
Opening with a bellowing rendition of “Happy Days Are Here Again,” Fisher opens the show with a tragic story – her best friend dying in her bed. The story is typical Fisher: dark and very upsetting, but told in a frank manner that finds the ridiculousness in the situation. She then quickly segues to the subject of her parents: dad, Eddie Fisher was a famous crooner of the 1950s, who later became famous for bedding Elizabeth Taylor. Mother Debbie Reynolds with the sweet as pie movie star. Of course everyone knows that Taylor and Reynolds were BFFs until Taylor became a widow and Fisher rushed to her side to console her (and then to bed her). It’s a story that has been repeated over and over again, and in Wishful Drinking, Fisher spends some time covering it, before going over a twisted family tree, whose branches include various b-list celebrities including Connie Stevens, Joely Fisher, and Trish Fisher. Our hostess presents all of this information like a college professor, standing in front of a chalk board with a pointer, and even awards a medal to an audience member who manages to keep up with all of the convoluted details.
She shares stories of her parents – mainly their awful marriage, breakup, and subsequent marriages and financial troubles. She’s much more protective of Reynolds than she is of Eddie Fisher, making sure that her mom’s legacy as a movie star (and gay icon) is mentioned, while she takes pot shots at her pop (including at his extensive plastic surgery which she quips made him look Asian). Reading Postcards from the Edge, one can gleam that Carrie Fisher’s relationship with her mother wasn’t smooth (the DVD has an hour-long interview in which Reynolds discusses her daughter’s drug use), but she’s still charmed by the film legend’s eccentric diva behavior.
But Wishful Drinking doesn’t just focus on Fisher’s family – she also had a substantial career of her own, highlighted by her performance as Princess Leia in the Star Wars films (she even wears a wig with the iconic buns). It’s clear she looks at the films with affection, but the iconic role is also a little bit of an albatross (“George Lucas ruined my life…I mean that in the nicest possible way” she grouses). The film’s reputation and cult status forever sealed Fisher’s fate as Leia, and everything she did afterwards languished in its shadow. She also pokes fun at her sex symbol status, particularly when she had to don the infamous metal bikini, forever cementing her as masturbation fodder for a certain segment of the Star Wars fan base.
All of these stories are told in Fisher’s expressive, matter-of-fact style. She doesn’t try for poignancy and at times, her flippant attitude can seem as if she’s trivializing some pretty serious events in her life, but that’s all part of Fisher’s considerable charms. Hollywood isn’t known for being a brain trust, so it’s nice to see one of its most notable scions be so smart. Wishful Drinking doesn’t always hit emotional highs, but like its author, its never boring and always insightful.