The Tom & Lorenzo Archives: 2006 -2011
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HBO's Grey Gardens

Add ImageLast night, in a theater filled half with gay men and half with what appeared to be mothers and daughters, we had the pleasure of viewing an advance screening of HBO's Grey Gardens, starring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange.

Before we go any further, if you haven't seen the original 1975 documentary, you really should, especially if you plan on seeing the HBO film. Part one appears to be missing, but you can start with part 2 here and work your way through the rest of it. In short, it tells the story of Big Edie and Little Edie, the aunt and cousin of Jackie O; Hamptons old money after the money dried up and no one cared about them anymore. Two charismatic and unique women living their lives in a crumbling old mansion, surrounded by at least a dozen cats (and God knows how many racoons) with nothing but their memories and each other to keep them company.

For reasons that we couldn't possibly articulate, the documentary became a cult classic and Little Edie in particular became something of an icon for gay men. While it would be easy to declare their story merely tragic (and there is plenty of tragedy), the documentary showed that with all their fears and eccentricities and codependency, there was still a fierce bond between this mother and daughter and a deep, largely misunderstood love there too. Jessica and Drew (not to mention the film's writer/producer/director, Michael Sucsy) had their work cut out for them. The original documentary has a fanatic following and any deviations or shortcomings could have been seen as disastrous.

So, how did everyone do? Pretty damn well. Jessica Lange tops the list with an astonishing performance as she ages from her late thirties to her late seventies, nailing the mimicry the role required but also giving the character a depth and level of realism that's haunting. Too often when an actor is required to play an aged character, they can never quite pull it off. There's always something behind the eyes and under the layers of makeup that gives away the spark of youth. Not so here. As we said, her mimicry was letter-perfect (there are times when you'd swear they were using footage from the original film), but she also manages to convey that vagueness of thought and emotion that the aged so often have. The weariness as well as the nostalgia.

As for Drew, she definitely gave the performance of her life, although she's a distant second to Jessica's performance. She also nailed the mimicry and effectively conveyed the ... we hesitate to say "craziness," because Little Edie was so much more than that. We'll just say "extreme unconventionality" and leave it at that. Like Jessica, Drew was required to play someone decades older than her but unfortunately the bubbly girlishness of Drew Barrymore shone through more than once, reminding us that this wasn't a woman in her late fifties, but an all-too-recognizable woman in her early thirties. Still, she did an admirable job and like Jessica, there were times when you'd swear you were looking at the original footage.

If you loved these women, these unconventional, fierce, deeply damaged women, then you'll love this movie. If you've never been exposed to them, you'll still enjoy the film, but we can't stress enough how much more you'll appreciate it if you see the documentary first.

The movie goes much further than the documentary, showing the background and attempting to offer reasons why they allowed themselves to decline. Unfortunately, Big and Little Edie never did fully answer those questions themselves and thus, the film can't either. Still, we have to admit, it gave us much to think about; the underside of love and how it can warp into codependency; how even the fiercest, deepest love can wound as much as it sustains; and how a life (or two) can be completely derailed by one or two decisions that may have seemed minor at the time. As we said, the film couldn't answer all these questions but we walked home from the theater in almost total silence, pondering them.



[Photo: HBO.com]


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29 comments:

I saw the documentary and was left with this love for Little Edie. I cannot wait to see the movie. Thanks!


Lovely final paragraph, TLo. Bravo.


Can't wait to see this, the original doc was superb. Jessica Lange appears to be channeling Mary Louise Wilson as Big Edie in the musical version of GG.


Now I want to watch this movie with Big Sewing Siren :).


Thank you for the recap, TLo.

I have to admit, I was pretty sure that Jessica would nail it, but am still pretty apprehensive about Drew (even though I am a fan, now.)

I'll be sure to watch it this weekend.

BTW, loved the original docu, even if I was completely grossed out b/c of the hygiene issues.

Now, let's get back to VIRGINS vs. VIXENS!!!!

-AnonA


I'm home visiting my family this weekend and they have HBO, so I'm excited!

Did anyone see the Broadway musical? Being the big musical fan I am, I did and Christine Ebersole was perfection for me as the older Little Edie in Act II (she also pays a great Big Edie in Act I and her voice is divine). I love Drew Barrymore, but I'm not sure she could channel it as well as Ebersole did.


I am so excited to see this movie. I have watched the documentary several times and am anxious to see Jessica and Drew tackle two characters that no one really could have written.

Thanks for the review, TLo!


Karen in Ohio

Thank you for your insightful review. I will definitely take your advice, and watch the documentary first.

But, as a fifty-something woman with lots of fifty-something and older friends, I take umbrage at the idea that girlishness cannot possibly bubble up at an older age. If you'd ever met my effervescent 80-year old mother you would bite your own tongue!


The documentary was fascinating. Their story stayed with me for days after watching (& re-watching it).

Can't wait to see the HBO version! If you have HBO on Demand, there's several behind-the-scene vignettes to whet your appetite until Saturdy.


FashionFanatic

Fabulous review, guys, I can't wait to see the movie.


Damn you guys are lucky! I can't wait to see it now, after that fabulous review. Although Drew always makes me a little queasy, I hope her presence doesn't ruin it for me.


Thank you for the wonderful review. I do not have HBO so I'll need to rent


I can't wait! This is going to be THE movie event in my home. Thank God for HBO. Can you imagine what Lifetime would have done with this material?


I never forgot the doc., especially the resemblance between Big Edie and Jackie. However, these women where obviously mentally ill, in need of intervention and help from family, friends and since that was not forthcoming, the government.
There are cases like this all over the country. I hope this does not romanticize the severely mentally ill and that people view them as "eccentric" and people to emulate, rather than ill people neglected and in desperate need of help. Plus, save us from "crazy chic".


I never forgot the doc., especially the resemblance between Big Edie and Jackie. However, these women where obviously mentally ill, in need of intervention and help from family, friends and since that was not forthcoming, the government.
There are cases like this all over the country. I hope this does not romanticize the severely mentally ill and that people view them as "eccentric" and people to emulate, rather than ill people neglected and in desperate need of help. Plus, save us from "crazy chic".


OK guys, any deets on this and are you going to be guest stars:

" Laura Bennett, the working title of a new docu-reality series that will follow the fashion designer as she juggles her career with her personal life, which includes her husband, six children (five of them boys), and a band of misbehaving family pets."


What a beautifully written review, thank you.


I'd never heard of Grey Gardens. There's a part of me who wants to see it and a part that's terrified of it. I extricated myself, with great difficulty, from a dysfunctional relationship with my own mother (and still bear the emotional scars). How difficult is the movie (or the documentary) to watch? Is this the kind of movie apt to haul my baggage out of the closet and leave it strewn all over the floor?


jennamajig, I too saw the musical. It was my first trip to New York, and I'm thrilled to have seen that amazing show. I'm convinced it was the best original musical of the decade. Christine Ebersole gave one of the most devastating performances I've ever seen-- and I've seen many, many shows in my young life.

I'm apprehensive about this new film because it appears to be taking the brilliant structure of the musical... but without Frankel and Korie's brilliant score. But I'm a fan of Malcolm Gets, so here's hoping it's all right.


You guys can write. Great review.


I can't wait to see this. Jessica Lange is the bomb. I also can't wait for the Lost recap, although I have a sinking feeling that you hated it. Thanks for the review!


Hey TLo and fans,

I found another and (complete) link
on youtube.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R7b5gxc5VfI


~Girly


Some songs from the musical here!
http://www.myspace.com/greygardensthemusical

Will You is spectacular. The simple harp string that starts at 1:20 . . . WOW

Another Winter in Another Town is also amazing, so sad and poignant.

Unfortunately I never got to see the musical. But do enjoy the songs.


"The movie goes much further than the documentary, showing the background and attempting to offer reasons why they allowed themselves to decline. Unfortunately, Big and Little Edie never did fully answer those questions themselves and thus, the film can't either. Still, we have to admit, it gave us much to think about; the underside of love and how it can warp into codependency; how even the fiercest, deepest love can wound as much as it sustains; and how a life (or two) can be completely derailed by one or two decisions that may have seemed minor at the time. As we said, the film couldn't answer all these questions but we walked home from the theater in almost total silence, pondering them. "



I love you both and the reason is right here. Amazing review, guys.


Just watched it...

Jessica Lange was amazing.


CroqueMonsieur

Loved the movie!! Thanks for the reminder!!


The HBO film was excellent! Eric and I tried to watch the documentary in the past and were too bored. But we are planning to netflix it and try again.


It was a wonderful review, Tlo, and I couldn't agree more with your assessment of the stars. Lange disappeared into her role beautifully and I was ever so slightly always reminded that I was watching "Drew" be "Little Edie." The costumes and sets were rich even on my teeny,tiny set.
But I couldn't watch it to the end. It was far to painful to watch. The circumstances of the Beales, while initially quite grand, still emotionally reminded me of all the adult mother/daughter pairs still living together who surrounded me in my childhood. It was very common for the last female child (or the least attractive) in large households to become the defacto companion of the parents, as they aged, and to put their life aside whether they chose to or not.
Some of them come out alive (sort of like Susan Boyle) and some of them don't. They always make fabulous companions for children. Little Edie would have been a blast.


I just watched this again for a second time. It's fantastic, and this post extremely well done. Kudos, boys!





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