When Grey Gardens premiered on HBO earlier this year, I was telling a friend how good it was and how he really needed to watch it. He refused on two counts, the first being a slavish devotion to the original documentary upon which it’s based, and the second being Drew Barrymore, whom he hyperbolically declared to be “everything that’s wrong with cinema today.” I spoke with him earlier this evening, before sitting down to write this review. Seems his girlfriend rented it over the weekend and he caved. Good thing, too, because he really enjoyed it and appears to have a newfound respect for Miss Barrymore, offering her the highest praise with the simplest of critiques: “She was Little Edie!”
While it helps from a contextual standpoint to have seen the 1975 doc of the same name, it isn’t necessary for an appreciation of Grey Gardens. Albert and David Maysles’ original piece was the 100-minute culmination of various interviews given to the brothers by Edith “Big Edie” Ewing Bouvier Beale and her daughter, Edith “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale, who lived together in a decaying mansion in the East Hamptons. The name Bouvier is the key here: they are the aunt and cousin of one Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis. The pair lived in squalor for decades, surrounded by cats and raccoons. When the National Enquirer exposed the situation in the early ‘70s, Jackie O. felt the need to help her relatives by fixing up the house and (presumably) providing them with some financial support. This is all dramatically reenacted in the film (Jeanne Tripplehorn cameos as Jackie O.), and it’s the real reason for making it in the first place: to give viewers a taste of the years and events that led up to the Beales as presented by the Maysles.
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