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DVD Review: Grey Gardens (2009)

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Written by Senora Bicho

In 1975, Albert and David Maysles premiered Grey Gardens, a documentary that showcased the lives of mother and daughter, Edith “Big Edie” Ewing Bouvier Beale and Edith “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale, at the New York Film Festival. Earlier this year, HBO aired Grey Gardens, a 17-time Emmy-nominated television movie, which utilized portions of the Maysles’ documentary to tell a more complete story of these reclusive and eccentric women.

The movie starts in 1975 when Big Edie (Jessica Lange) and Little Edie (Drew Barrymore) are living alone in their dilapidated estate, Grey Gardens, located in East Hampton. As the women reveal themselves to the documentarians, the audience is transported through four decades of their lives and learn what took place. Their stories are interwoven together beautifully. We learn they did not always live in filth and squalor. Being relatives, aunt and first cousin respectively, of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, they were used to a much grander lifestyle. Struggles with men draw them together and eventually lead to their secluded lives and downward spiral.

One of the DVD’s special features is an audio commentary with director Michael Sucsy and executive producers Lucy Barzun Donnelly and Rachael Horovitz, which offers extensive information on the production of the film and additional background details. It is interesting to hear the research that was done and how they accomplished flushing out more about the women’s lives.

Grey Gardens: Then & Now” is fascinating as it explores the differences and similarities between the film and documentary. Interviews with Albert Maysles along with the cast and crew of the film are included. This featurette illustrates the strong performances of Barrymore and Lange. Seeing the real women in the documentary is astonishing because it is hard to tell which is which. Lange’s impressive performance is reminiscent of her role as Patsy Cline in Sweet Dreams. She is charming and portrays Big Edie’s struggles genuinely; you can feel her joy and pain. Barrymore is solid but her performance feels more like an act. Her accent is extremely distracting. Seeing portions of the real documentary does bring an added appreciation for her portrayal of Little Edie. The scenes of Barrymore and Lange together are the real strength of this film. They are able to express the deep emotion and bond between mother and daughter. Jeanne Tripplehorn is fabulous in a small role as Jacqueline Kennedy. Daniel Baldwin and Ken Howard are also strong in their supporting roles.

Grey Gardens offers a captivating story along with stellar performances. I can guarantee that if you haven’t seen the Maysles’ documentary, this will stir an interest. I am very anxious to learn more about these fascinating women.

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