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Review of HBO's Grey Gardens Starring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange

Grey Gardens: Appropriately Bleak, Yet Illuminating

It takes serious moxie to make a feature film from an excellent documentary, especially one as cultishly beloved as Grey Gardens. But, hey, it worked for Milk, and dare I say, it works for the new HBO movie, premiering this Saturday night and starring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange.

Like the 1975 documentary by Albert and David Maysles, this Grey Gardens zooms in on "Big Edie" (Lange) and "Little Edie" Bouvier Beale (Barrymore), aunt and first cousin to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The story follows the pair from their flossy socialite (if emotionally unstable) beginnings to the bizarre codepedence of little Edie's adults years, spent living with her mother in their decaying Hamptons mansion, surrounded by diseased cats, feral raccoons, and armoire-size mounds of filth.

The making of the documentary is a plot point in HBO's rendition, so die-hard fans will appreciate the movie's ability to illuminate the once dark and murky parts of the Beales' story. For what I thought,


Speaking of die-hard fans, I suspect Barrymore is one of them: she turns out an eerily accurate portrayal of Little Edie that is authentic, disarming, and far from impersonation. At times, I forgot it was Barrymore, which is something I've never thought before about her acting. Her face perfectly conveys Edie's flightiness and fear, as she feels obliged to stay with her mother yet lacks the wherewithal to live another life.

Like the documentary, Grey Gardens succeeds by not being strictly linear, flashing backward and forward to form the story's beginning, middle, and end. As Big Edie's husband leaves and the meager allowance runs dries, Little Edie's shaky big city dreams are dashed; on the night she returns, her mother's first question is, "Did you get the cat food?"

In Jackie O. accents, the movie answers a question asked by anyone who has seen the documentary: how did it get this bad? Watching the HBO movie, we learn that it got even worse before their famous cousin (portrayed in a cameo by Jeanne Tripplehorn) bails the Beales out. Unfortunately, but perhaps expectedly, the updated film can't match the raw masterpiece of the original. In its musical score and its vision, Grey Gardens lacks the artfulness of its source. To see this movie without also seeing the documentary would be like not reading Lolita because you already saw the movie. Both offer very different interpretations and, taken together, they form a fascinating biography.

Photos courtesy of HBO

It was amazing. Drew did an excellent job, she kept up the accent and never faltered in the performance. I loved it. LOL I do wonder why they didn't just tidy after themselves. Yesh that house was awful.
Green-Apple Green-Apple 8 years
I just saw it and it was divine. Drew was better than I thought she would be but it was Jessica Lang who was amazing. She seemed to be channeling Big Edie. Loved it!
Electric-Bird Electric-Bird 8 years
Some people here are very closeminded. o_o
caligirl101 caligirl101 8 years
I recently saw the documentary and I just saw the film. I think that they did a great job of portraying the Beales.
GKitty GKitty 8 years
I think casting Drew was brilliant...I thought about that time she showed out on the Davis Letterman show, that Tom Green thing...(she's really crazy).
LolaSvelt LolaSvelt 8 years
The reviews have been great, which makes me want to see it even more now!
nancita nancita 8 years
Fleurfairy, I was at first puzzled by the Drew Barrymore casting too. She gets on my nerves in a major major way, and I LOVE the documentary. But having seen a sneak peek of this, I have to admit, she's actually really good. You'd be surprised.
Green-Apple Green-Apple 8 years
I can't wait to see this. Like fleurfairy I was not too excited about Drew in the role but she's won me over in the previews. No one could be as fabulous as Little Edie but she did a pretty good job as far as I can tell from what's been released.
ilanac13 ilanac13 8 years
there has been SOO much buzz about this movie and i think that HBO is doing the right thing by blowing it up soo much in the press. it's a good tactic - to generate heat and hype around a movie that's not in the theaters but that has a major cast. i hope that it delivers. we'll all know in a couple days
tlsgirl tlsgirl 8 years
I totally want to see this.
fleurfairy fleurfairy 8 years
I just admire the documentary too much to watch this. I can't get past Drew Barrymore playing Little Edie. It's odd casting and Drew annoys me. I'll stick to the reality.
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