Adam’s Film Friday – A Review of Grey Gardens

This week’s movie, Grey Gardens, is another stab at a biopic, but more in the traditional sense of the genre.  It was a made-for-TV movie which aired on HBO and starred Jessica Lange as Big Edie Bouvier Beale and Drew Barrymore as Little Edie Bouvier Beale.

The original concept behind this movie came from a 1975 documentary, also titled Grey Gardens, produced by the Maysle Brothers: Albert and David. The movie followed Big and Little Edie Bouvier Beale, who were the aunt and first cousin of Jackie Kennedy Onassis, respectively. The duo, after a series of hardships, become recluses in their East Hampton home Grey Gardens, which soon becomes unfit for habitation because of unsanitary conditions. Jackie O gives Little Edie and Big Edie $32,000 to get the house clean and in a livable condition, so they can remain there.  The story garnered much attention, and the Maysles (who originally wanted to produce a movie on Jackie O and her sister’s life growing up in East Hampton) decided to make a documentary about the Beales instead. The TV movie switches back and forth from scenes of the movie being filmed to stories from the past explaining how the Beales became people they were.

I absolutely loved this movie. I thought the story was extremely unique, and rather than being filmed in chronological order, I thought it was interesting that the plot went back and forth from the past to present. As the viewer, you really got an understanding as to why this house was so important to them and how the characters all ended up in the situation in which they did. The movie just had something about it that made it so appealing to the viewer: the acting was top-notch (especially for a TV movie), the story very heart wrenching yet funny at times, and overall it made for an enjoyable movie experience.

One thing that was definitely a stand out for me was the performance of Drew Barrymore as Little Edie. Normally Drew Barrymore in my opinion is a one-note actress; she seems to play the same character in a lot of her movies. She’s always played the quirky character that is loveable despite her faults. With that being said, I was thoroughly impressed and surprised with her performance. She played Little Edie from ages 19 to 60. To have the ability to play someone over a four decade period takes not only dedication, but also the ability to play the multiple sides of this character. In the beginning her character seems so hopeful that she is going to escape Grey Gardens and make something for herself, but by the middle, she realizes how dependent her mother is on her and how she won’t get out until her mother dies.  Due to the eccentricity of Little Edie, it would have been very simple for the performance to look as if Barrymore was making a mockery of her or doing a less than flattering imitation of her. The performance was more of Barrymore’s take on Little Edie, rather than her trying to mimic her voice and her movements, which also led to making her performance that much more believable.

Originally after viewing the movie, I was upset that there wasn’t more of an appearance of Jackie O. Jeanne Tripplehorn portrayed Jackie O, and despite being only in the movie for six minutes, she was able to garner an Emmy Nomination for Best Supporting Actress in a miniseries or made-for-TV movie. I thought she was so good in her one scene that I found myself wishing there was at least one more scene that she was in. As I sat down to write this review, I came to the conclusion that the main story behind the movie and main factor pushing this movie was about the dynamic between Big Edie and Little Edie. Even the actors who played Big Edie’s husband, the Maysles, or even Cap weren’t in the movie all that long. At its heart the movie was about the dynamic between mother and daughter. Despite their craziness and despite all of the other relationships they had, at the end of the day they really could only truly depend on each other.

All and all, I truly enjoyed this movie. It had me laughing some moments then nearly in tears in the next scene and it held my rapt attention for the entirety and definitely lived up to my expectations. Like always, I leave my readers with a question: If you could spend the rest of your life in one place and one place only, where would you stay? Until next time, happy viewing to you!

5 out of 5 Stars

Grey Gardens (2009)
HBO Films
PG, 104 Minutes

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