One of the best movies to be released in recent years, didn't actually play in theaters. It is an HBO produced film that was created as an ode to arguably the most famous documentary in history and features two actresses in the performances of their careers.
It all started back in the 70s, a time when two relatives (an aunt and a cousin) of a very famous first lady were found to be living in "squalor". Word of this mother and daughter falling from wealth and sophistication to living with racoons in a broken down home in the Hamptons began circulating around and eventually caught the attention of people around the country.
All of which lead to a documentary film crew stopping by to begin filming, what would eventually be called, "Grey Gardens" (the name of their crumbling estate).
The mother and daughter, both named Edith Bouvier Beale and lovingly referred to as "Big Edie" and "Little Edie", were the relatives of Jackie Kennedy/Onassis. They were quite the boisterous and perfect characters to end up as the subjects of a documentary. Both had dreams of being performers, but never had success in show business until the release of the documentary about their own lives.
It was a triumph and over the years has become a cult classic. Since then there was also a 2006 Broadway musical based on the life of the mother/daughter duo and then a 2009 movie version starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore.
While the documentary was a breakout sensation for the medium and has large moments of genius, I definitely prefer the HBO film version which also reveals more about what the women were like before their lives went seemingly to pieces.
From the gorgeous 1930s/1970s costumes, to the elaborate aging make-up, to the actors perfectly capturing the way these women talked, the 2009 take on Grey Gardens is a very lovely and well made movie all about the choices in life we decide to make. No detail was overlooked, especially in the spot on recreations of several scenes from the documentary.
I had watched and adored the movie when it was released six years ago, but decided this afternoon to watch it again. It was just as fantastic the second time around.
What blew me away the first time and did again today, is the performance by Drew Barrymore.
She has been kicking around for years delivering cheery, funny, and charming acting. She has never however, been given this type of dishy role and she wonderfully succeeds at portraying all of Edie's high and low moments. From the young, vivacious Edie who gets to prance around in elegant silk gowns (and this one summery outfit that I wanted to rip out of my screen), to the older, still bold Edie, who loves to rock scarves and skirts, but has become a much harder woman who lost a little of her light along the way - and you can see that all in the little nuances Barrymore delivers in simple looks on her face.
On the other side is Jessica Lange playing Big Edie, who no surprise, is also great. Both her and Barrymore work together to brilliantly tell the story of these women who stuck by each other through the years, even when life wasn't going their way.
It's a poignant and often times heartbreaking story, but an important one to tell. The Beale's wouldn't want you to feel sorry for them. They enjoyed their life, which was made evident by the quote from Little Edie at the top of the page. They made choices and some of their dreams didn't come true, but that's life and all we can do is keep moving because regret doesn't help anything. That's something I have to tell myself all the time.
Watching this movie made me think a lot about my own aspirations, but also how I constantly mourn the fact that more movies focused on fascinating stories about women's lives aren't being made. All I'm asking for is more well written dramas like this one. Movies where women like Drew Barrymore are given more interesting characters to play - characters that have an unique story to tell. Little and Big Edie are definitely not the only women who have lead noteworthy lives. The rest of those stories are just out there waiting to be told.
Check out Grey Gardens (2009) On HBO Streaming/On Demand and the documentary Grey Gardens (1976) on Hulu.
Until next time.