“Mother wanted me to come out in a kimono, so we had quite a fight.”
Drew Barrymore as Little Edie
Grey Gardens, produced by HBO, is the tale of the infamous Edith Bouvier Beale her daughter “Little Edie” Beale, the cousins of former first lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy-Onassis. Recently released on DVD, I gave it a try.
Before I dig into the film, perhaps I should give a quick refresher course on the documentary film upon which this film is based.
The original documentary film Grey Gardens, directed by Albert and David Maysles and released in 1975, unleashed a firestorm upon its release. Edith Bouvier Beale and “Little Edie” Beale, cousins of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, were not living in luxury in the Hamptons, as one might expect.
The twists and turns of fate and the fickle nature of sanity had left the two women living alone in a positively dilapidated house, a house that was in such poor repair, the majority of the rooms had raccoons, stray cats and other wild life living freely in them. The house was in such disrepair, that the women were relegated to living in just a few rooms that were inhabitable.
When the living and mental condition of the cousins of the former First lady hit the newspapers and the documentary was released, it spurred Jacqueline into action. No longer could she ignore the “dark secret” of the family. She provided some much needed assistance to her cousins and kept the home from being condemned. However, it was still just barely inhabitable. “Big” Edie and “Little” Edie were far from embarrassed from the attention of the documentary crew. Rather, they seemed to enjoy the attention, relished in telling their side of their life story and enjoyed “performing” for a new audience and readily sang and dance old show tunes for the Maysles’ eager and understanding lens.
If you have not seen this seminal film, do yourself a favor and check it out immediately.
So, now flash forward to 2009. After the 1975 film has become a “cult” classic, a Broadway musical was produced telling the story of the Beales and now this film from HBO. So how was it, you ask?
Drew Barrymore portrays Little Edie Beale and Jessica Lange portrays Big Edith Bouvier Beale. The story is told in an interesting manner: it flashes back and forth between the more extravagant and luxurious days of the Beales to the situation that the women found themselves in the seventies. Little Edie, before the days of wrapping sweaters around her head for a fashion statement, was an aspiring model, singer and all around “creative type” and was a much sought after debutante. Big Edie was a polished and vivacious wealthy wife that loved to entertain the guests that visited Grey Gardens, the name of the sprawling house that the women reside in.
But Grey Gardens, both this film and the original documentary, are about more than the loss of wealth and social stature. It is about the complex relationship between a mother and daughter and it is a portrait of two head strong women who refuse to give up their dreams. They might only be performing show tunes for each other, the rare visitor or the Maysles camera, but they live with zest and do not apologize for who they are or how they live.
If you have seen the documentary, you are going to be impressed with the performances by both Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore. Barrymore has perfected Little Edie’s dialect, mannerisms and personality and Lange gives an equally perfected performance as Big Edie. Not only are the performances “spot on”, but the costume and set decoration are impeccable.
If you are a fan of the original documentary film, you are going to enjoy this film. If you aren’t familiar with the original film, make a night of it and watch both: just watch the original documentary film first.
Presented in widescreen, the transfer is first rate. The colors are vibrant and the image is crisp and highly detailed. I did not notice any instances of grain or artifacts.
Presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, the dialogue is crystal clear and easily understood. You will hear every syllable of that East Coast/Hamptons accent without any problems.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
Presented in a standard amaray case, the understated artwork suits the film presented well.
There is a commentary track with director Michael Sucsy and producers Lucy Barzun Donnelly and Rachael Horowitz. They discuss the pre-production and production of the film and the painstaking work that went into the look of the film and the performances.
Grey Gardens: Then and Now is an entertaining featurette that features Barrymore, Lange and Albert Maysles discussing the original film and this new production.
Overall (Not an Average) 7/10
The Film 7/10
The Video 7/10
The Audio 6/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 5.5/10
Overall (Not an Average) 7/10