Review: HBO's 'Grey Gardens' released on DVD
By Rolando Pujol
"Edie!" the cranky call comes from the cluttered upstairs bedroom.
"Yes, mother," comes the beleaguered Pavlovian response from somewhere amid the filth downstairs.
The dance of love, devotion and co-dependency that was the fascinating bond between mother Edith "Big Edie" Beale, and her artistically frustrated, curiously attired daughter, Edith "Little Edie" Beale, has been mined several times, most famously in the 1975 documentary "Grey Gardens," by the Maysles Brothers. A recent Broadway adaptation was a critical success, and fed the insatiable appetite for new takes on the story of Jackie' O's black-sheep relatives. They isolated themselves in a decaying East Hampton mansion, Grey Gardens, gradually falling from Bouvier family opulence into such stomach-turning squalor that they were almost evicted by Suffolk County heath department authorities (That Camelot cousin saved the day).
Their story has now been captured anew in HBO's "Grey Gardens," which premiered in April and is released on DVD Tuesday.If you are a devotee of the documentary (there are no casual fans of this film), you'll think it's the mid 1970s again and the Beales are back in all their campy decadence, living with their colony of cats and Wonder-bread-loving raccoon named Buster. This is one of those rare biographical films where everything clicks convincingly: acting, set design, the works. The filmmakers are careful curators of this rich material, though credit is due to the masterful performances by Jessica Lange as Big Edie and Drew Barrymore as Little Edie. (This film better clean up at the Emmys.) What's more, the HBO film tries to answer some questions about just how the Beales could have ended up this way.
Ultimately, the film renders a heartbreaking story of a desperate mother left alone in the world, clinging to a devoted daughter who gives up her Hollywood dreams to become, as they were known in 1970s tabloid stories, Jackie O's eccentric relatives.
In real life Little Edie escapes Grey Gardens only after her mother dies in 1977, and Little Edie dies in 2002 in Bal Harbour, Fla. While she reveled in the documentary's success, and even scored a Greenwich Village nightclub act in January 1978, one wishes that she could have lived to witness the crossover phenomenon that "Grey Gardens" has become in recent years. She is truly now a celebrity, an "acquired taste," as her mother says in the HBO film, but very much a celebrity in her own right.