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Grey Gardens (2009)


Mother wanted me to come out in a kimono, so we had quite a fight.
— Little Edith Bouvier Beale

This past September, the HBO movie Grey Gardens was nominated for sixteen Emmys. It won six Emmys including, Best Actress Jessica Lange, Best Supporting Actor Ken Howard and Best Television Movie. It deserves it.

This movie expands the world of Edie and Edith Beale (Drew Barrymore, Lange), the reclusive relatives of Jackie O that were captured in the Al and David Mayseles’ 1975 documentary. The structure of the movie is set up as the brothers filming the staunched women and it flashes back to 1936 where the Beales were at the top of high society.

Edith and her husband Phelan (Ken Howard) only wanted to have Edie to find a suitor to have a stable life on her own. Edie doesn’t want to be somebody’s wife. She wants to be a famous actress and dancer on Broadway.

During the summer, the Beales go to their vacation house, Grey Gardens to get away from hustle and bustle of New York City. Edith retreats from her marriage to take up singing with music teacher Gould Strong (Malcolm Gets).

The relationship between Edie and Edith comes to a head when Phelan wants to move the family back to the city. Edith wants to stay in Grey Gardens, because the house is under her name. She will not leave or sell the house to anyone.

After the next couple of years when the trust fund runs out, the house goes into disarray when the servants had to be let go and there is no one to take care of the house.

Edie’s life doesn’t fair any better in the big city. She is living off the allowance from both of her parents. She still hasn’t found a suitable husband. Phelan wants to cut her off. She takes a job as a model where she meets the married Julius Krug (Daniel Baldwin) and has an affair with him.

After the relationship ended, Edie is sent to Grey Gardens where the two Edie spend the next couple of decades in squalor. The health department for Suffolk County wants to condemn the house for unsanitary conditions for piles of trash, the stench of cat urine and feces, etc.

When the news comes out about the recluses, Jackie O (Jeanne Tripplehorn) visits Grey Gardens to see for herself the state that her aunt and cousin are in. After her visit, she orchestrates the clean up of Grey Gardens when the Maysles brothers, Al and David (Arye Gross, Justin Louis).

Ultimately, the message of the movie is how your decisions affected the people in your life and your own. The movie is filled with bitterness and resentment with the decisions that Edie and Edith made during their lives.

This was a fascinating exploration of the Beales. The way that Drew and Jessica transformed themselves was a thing of beauty. I thought I saw the actual people. I have seen the documentary but not the sister film, The Beales of Grey Gardens. It was nice to see the duo is happier times, but the middle of the movie delved into melodrama when Edie moves back into Grey Gardens. I won’t spoil it, but you will know it when you see it.

Judgment: A bubbly romp that makes you want to spend more time with Beales.

Rating: ****

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