In 1973, documentary filmmaking brothers Albert Maysles and David Maysles decide to change the focus of their latest project from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis to her aunt and older cousin, mother and daughter Edith Bouvier Beale - called Big Edie - and Edith 'Little Edie' Bouvier Beale, who were found living in squalor and isolation in the longtime family mansion, Grey Gardens, in East Hampton, New York. Through flashbacks starting in 1936, the path mother and daughter take from their socialite past to the time that the Mayles brothers show their completed film is shown. Big Edie's husband/Little Edie's father, Phelan Beale, controlled the family money, which included providing singing lessons to Big Edie with musician Gould Strong, with who she had more than a musical interest. Big Edie saw herself as a singer, first and foremost. Mother and father also controlled Little Edie's life, they who wanted her to stay at Grey Gardens rather than pursue her dream of becoming a professional ... Written by
In New York, Little Edie lives in the Barbizon Hotel, an apartment building on East 63rd Street for young single women. In one scene, Little Edie sneaks Cap into her room because of the Barbizon's strict ban on male visitors. Parents often choose the Barbizon for their daughters in the city for that reason. Other famous women who lived at the Barbizon while starting out in New York City include Joan Crawford, Grace Kelly, Candice Bergen, and author Sylvia Plath, whose protagonist in 'The Bell Jar' lived in a place much like the Barbizon. See more »
Well, you can't go wrong using Big and Little Edie as subject matter, be it in a documentary, a movie, or a musical. This beautifully photographed and opulent "Grey Gardens," starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore as Big and Little Edie, again demonstrates what compelling people they were.
Not having seen any documentary yet, or the musical, which had some powerful emotions expressed in the music ("Another Winter in a Summer Town" as an example), I can only go by this particular "Grey Gardens." The story of the Beales is sad, harrowing, frustrating, and sometimes funny. Both women are magnificent in their roles, particularly Lange, though my understanding is that the real Big Edie was a much better singer than shown here. Barrymore makes a stunning young Edie, living in New York and trying to make it as an actress and captures the mature woman - it's quite a stretch, too.
What's missing here is exactly what happened to these two beautiful and wealthy women, and I'm not sure it's covered in any other material about them. Why didn't Big Edie remarry? Why didn't Edie "The Body Beautiful" Beale get a rich husband? Why did the other children allow them to live the way they did? Was Little Edie untalented, or could she have had success as an actress? Were they always mentally unstable or eccentric or make each other that way? I don't know after watching "Grey Gardens," though I'm sure Lange and Barrymore made some decisions about those things in order to play their roles.
The nice thing about "Grey Gardens," for me, anyway, is that Little Edie finally got what she wanted in life - fame (well, notoriety), the ability to perform, money, and a warm place to live. I'm happy about that for her. I just wish I knew more about the psychology that led up to all of it.
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