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
Little Edie's black bathing suit with yellow flowers is not a reproduction. It's a vintage piece from the same batch as the suit Miss Beale owned. It belongs to a fan of the original documentary, who lent to the film's production crew for the shoot. See more »
I remember vividly walking through the living room one day in the late 90's when my roommate was chuckling at the documentary GREY GARDENS on the Sundance channel. My eye immediately caught the images of Big and Little Edie in the yellow room and I became involved watching it too. Something about this little documentary just drew me into it. Yes, it was funny, but the humor was also mixed with feelings of horror and pity. I remember feeling a bit uneasy watching these women. One confined to an uncomfortable bed and the other confined to her shattered dreams of unrealized stardom. Both seemingly stuck in a dilapidated house in bad need of repair. What I find beautiful about the documentary is how it questions ones own perception on what "wealth" is. The documentary has that "never judge a book by it's cover" / "things are never quite what they seem" aspect to it. The greatness of the documentary is the message that "real" wealth in life comes in different forms, not just perceived material possessions. The outside doesn't necessarily reflect what's going on beneath the surface. After several viewings of the documentary, it's impossible to have pity for big and little Edie. They had wealth where it counted, in humor, intelligence, feeling, character and for each other.
GREY GARDENS with Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange is a beautiful and deeply moving tribute to a couple of women whose lives might have been forgotten if it weren't for a couple of documentary filmmakers. Handsomely directed and paced by Michael Sucsy, the film resonates so many feelings that only the hardened will not be moved.
At times it is difficult not to compare and judge the performances of Lange and Barrymore with the real Big and Little Edie Beale, especially for those of us overly familiar with the documentary. Oddly enough some of the best scenes in the film are in the early years. If in moments Lange and Barrymore fail to completely live up to an exact interpretation of the Beales, they immediately redeem themselves with the conviction, understanding and love they have for the women and the material. The performances by Lange, Barrymore and Jeanne Tripplehorn will move and surprise you. The film honors, respects and celebrates it's subjects and like the documentary, it touches something deep down.
It reminds all of us that wealth comes in different forms and that true wealth is the loyalty two people can have for each other.
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