Monday, September 12, 2011

'Wishful Drinking'

Given how much Carrie Fisher has been through in her life, I guess I expected her one-woman stage show Wishful Drinking, recorded last year for an HBO special, to be more detailed and revealing, instead of the entertaining but disappointingly glib routine she delivers. It's not that Fisher is reluctant to share the details of her life -- on the contrary, she almost gleefully lays out the dysfunctional relationships of her parents, singer Eddie Fisher and actress Debbie Reynolds, illustrating their various marriages and affairs with an amusing oversized chart she dubs "Hollywood Inbreeding 101." But Fisher's own feelings (other than bemusement) about these no doubt traumatic scandals and tragedies are obscured by her reliance on corny jokes and silly gimmicks.

Of course, the whole point of the show is for Fisher to find humor in her difficult life, and some of it is indeed quite funny. But the value of laughing at your misfortunes is in finding a new way to understand them, and so much of Wishful Drinking glides past understanding in favor of a few more easy laughs. Fisher frequently references dark, troubling episodes in her life, including her mother's multiple financial ruins and Fisher's own stints in rehab and mental-health facilities, but she then pulls back from illuminating how or why she ended up in those situations, or what enabled her to cope. This is especially true of Fisher's substance-abuse problems, which, despite the title, get little attention in comparison to her parents' romantic escapades.

Maybe it's because Fisher has already covered this ground fictionally in several of her novels, but the straight-up truth has a value that no fictionalized account, no matter how close to reality, can replicate. Given how self-aware Fisher is about her parents' psychological hang-ups, and even about her own romantic relationships, it's disappointing that she holds back on what for many could be the most fascinating and insightful part of the show. There's also a book version of the story, which may feature more and better detail (although it's still on the short side at under 200 pages), but audiences shouldn't have to look to other sources to get a full understanding of what Fisher is portraying here. There's a definite value in hearing it in Fisher's own voice, with the way she commands the stage and cleverly deploys visual aids. A lot of Wishful Drinking is hilarious and heartbreaking, which makes it even more frustrating when Fisher walks offstage after 75 minutes, having barely scratched the surface of what she has to offer.

Available on DVD September 13.

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