"How did these two women who had everything end up living in squalor?"
April 14, 2009 9:49 PM   Subscribe

This weekend marks the U.S. premiere of the new HBO film Grey Gardens (starring Drew Barrymore as Little Edie and Jessica Lange as Big Edie) -- promo [video | 02:01] || 'Inside Grey Garden' [video | 03:33]. The film is based on the 1975 documentary filmed by the Maysles brothers, depicting the "true story of Mrs. Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter Edie, the aunt and first cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis....[who] live[d] in a world of their own behind the towering privets that surround[ed] their decaying 28-room East Hampton mansion known as 'Grey Gardens.'"

Director Michael Sucsy leads a tour of the Grey Gardens estate as it is today [video | 03:22].

The house is now owned by former Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee and his wife, author and journalist, Sally Quinn.
The Advocate: The Cult of Grey Gardens.

New York Magazine: The Secret of Grey Gardens.

A previous adaptation: Grey Gardens -- The Musical.
Previously on MeFi:
Grey Gardens -- The Return of the Marble Faun.

Da-Da-Da-Da-Dumm...
posted by ericb (47 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
I am SO EXCITED about this movie - but my feelings are complicated. It's a kind of crisis that exists at the nexus of this is the best story ever and drew barrymore is a charming but terrible actress.
posted by moxiedoll at 9:52 PM on April 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


I am SO DISMAYED by the idea of this movie. Why can't the vampires leave anything small and great and strange alone? Next they'll do a Henry Darger bio pic starring Mickey Rourke. Plus I just keep reading the director's name as Sucky.
posted by tula at 10:07 PM on April 14, 2009 [7 favorites]


Huh, I didn't know they were doing this. Why is HBO keeping secrets from me?

Thank you, ericb.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 10:18 PM on April 14, 2009


moxiedoll, I saw a preview and she was amazingly good. I have hope.
posted by fshgrl at 10:24 PM on April 14, 2009


I am already planning my best costume for the day I watch this.
posted by padraigin at 10:34 PM on April 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


I caught Drew Barrymore talking about this movie on Fresh Air today. Some of Terry Gross's questions were weirdly invasive, I thought. Barrymore must be sick of talking about her mother.
posted by painquale at 10:37 PM on April 14, 2009


The best parts of the trailer were the parts that were most like the original movie. Barrymore seems to do a convincing Little Edie, but Little Edie did it better.

God that movie, though.
posted by wemayfreeze at 10:50 PM on April 14, 2009


I was ready to squeak with rage and pound the tiny keys on my mousie laptop until I watched the promo. Drew is fantastic. Yes, of course Little Edie did Little Edie better, but still. That is an inspired performance.

I think the worst aspect of this, if it has one, will be the spelling out of the family drama and the return from New York, which was an angry confused haze that haunted the original documentary.
posted by fleetmouse at 10:57 PM on April 14, 2009


I think the worst aspect of this, if it has one, will be the spelling out of the family drama and the return from New York, which was an angry confused haze that haunted the original documentary.
"It becomes apparent, for instance, that Little Edie was not possessed of great talent. It also becomes obvious that, whatever else affected her sanity, she suffered from the same sort of fame mania that blinds 'American Idol' wannabes to their own limitations. When her father began running out of money, the Depression's toll made worse when he had a new wife to support along with his first one and the children, daughter Edie refused to consider supporting herself by finding a regular job. It was the stage or nothing, and ultimately nothing won. When a thrilling romance blew up in her face, she headed for Grey Gardens. There she joined a mother already in mental and financial decline, but eventually embraced the fantasy of a grand past and good things to come." *
posted by ericb at 11:05 PM on April 14, 2009


"It's very difficult to keep the line between the past and the present."

That line claws at me, she does it so well. I don't doubt that she did go a little crazy playing this role.
posted by fleetmouse at 11:09 PM on April 14, 2009


i rented grey gardens, i think based on some ask.mefi thread discussing documentaries about annoying/dislikable people. didn't get through it though; too boring.

the movie @ the two guys fighting over barry bonds' home run ball was a little better. but best was the one about the horrible guy who wins a contest to have his screenplay produced... i forget the name but oh man what a jerk. that one was good!
posted by jcruelty at 11:21 PM on April 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is this the first time a documentary has been remade? The very idea of this film strikes me as completely wrong in much the same way as the upcoming live-action Fantastic Planet remake.
posted by One Second Before Awakening at 12:00 AM on April 15, 2009


I am SO TORN BETWEEN THE WAYS MOXIEDOLL AND TULA FEEL about this movie.
(You might be interested in this Henry Darger film if you haven't already seen it.)
Saw the promo and was amazed at Barrymore's performance in those few seconds. Then I thought, cover up your head, nail the accent, and that's pretty much it.
If you think the Grey Gardens gals are dislikable(?!) then I just don't know.
posted by zoinks at 12:12 AM on April 15, 2009


One Second Before, I don't know if remade is the right word. Perhaps inspired by the same source material? Anyway, Dogtown and Z Boys and the Life and Times of Harvey Milk come to mind, two great docs turned into mediocre feature films. But both of those seemed to follow the story structure of the original documentaries very closely. This Grey Gardens adaptation seems to be much looser.
posted by cazoo at 12:21 AM on April 15, 2009


I was never very impressed with Drew Barrymore, but then I caught part of the Fresh Air interview that painquale linked to.

She comes across as a very serious actor and it's clear that she immersed herself in this role. It seemed very important to her that she do everything she could to get Little Edie right.
posted by rbellon at 3:16 AM on April 15, 2009


"How did these two women who had everything end up living in squalor?"

Mental illness.

As a youngin', I really loved Grey Gardens. I still do, to some degree, but I can't watch it with the same level of amazement or amusement. These people are mentally ill and the only reason their story was deemed interesting enough to film by the Maysles was the fact that they were formerly incredibly wealthy and were relatives to some very iconic Americans. But there are a lot of people out there living alone or together in decrepit, run-down, filthy houses, feeding off their own delusions, creating for themselves a fictitious fantasy world. I know that it's interesting that these people once led magnificent lives and look - look how far they've fallen and isn't it sad, isn't it poetic, doesn't it just say something (something altogether vague) about the human condition? So, I don't know. Like I said, I'm conflicted. On the one hand, it really is a great film. On the other hand, I wouldn't want anyone making a film about my crazy aunt/cousin who live together in a world of their own creation. And of course, nobody would want to, because their life is just as sad and disturbing as the Beales, but without the notoriety or panache.
posted by billysumday at 3:24 AM on April 15, 2009 [7 favorites]


Hey, thanks for that Henry Drager film reference!
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 4:15 AM on April 15, 2009


You know, I was all ready to bitch and moan about this seemingly gratuitous remake, but then I watched the trailer. Not bad. It made me all the more interested in these women as people, not just as spectacle.

As for precedents, this reminds me a bit of Herzog's remake of his "Little Dieter Needs to Fly" as a documentary a few years ago, in reverse.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 4:20 AM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Staunch women,
they just don't weaken.
posted by brevator at 4:45 AM on April 15, 2009


For the first time ever, I feel like I knew about something on Metafilter long before I found it here. Barrymore talked about preparing for her role for Edie more than a year ago, when she was on the cover of Vogue in March of last year. I tried to find a copy of the story online, but all I could find were sites named things like popcrunch and popsugar simply telling us about her "classic" cover photo. (Jesus, this is journalism.)
Anyway, if you guys can find it (EBSCOhost?) I'm sure you'd dig it.
posted by thebellafonte at 5:09 AM on April 15, 2009


Oh p.s., gosh the "When We Are Together" song and the way they use it in the trailer is just great.
posted by thebellafonte at 5:13 AM on April 15, 2009


Is this the first time a documentary has been remade?

No--Dogtown and Z-Boys was remade as Lords of Dogtown.
posted by Prospero at 5:19 AM on April 15, 2009


Interesting factoid from Roger Ebert's 1976 review:
The film was made almost by accident. Albert and David Maysles, the directors of such documentaries as "Salesman" and "Gimme Shelter," were approached, by the two Bouvier sisters, Jacqueline Onassis and Lee Radziwell. Would the Maysles like to make a movie about the Bouviers? They might. Jackie and Lee supplied them with information about the family, including their two reclusive cousins in East Hampton, NY The Maysles shot, on and off, for several months. Then they reviewed their footage and decided there wasn't a movie in Jackie and Lee - but there seemed to be one in Edith and Edie.
posted by Poolio at 5:44 AM on April 15, 2009


An exploitation of an exploitation.
posted by milarepa at 5:48 AM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also, Beyond the Gates of Splendor was remade (or at least based on the same material, as cazoo notes) as End of the Spear.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 5:54 AM on April 15, 2009


Seconding jcruelty. If the remake manages to not be completely tedious and dull, they'll have improved it a lot.
posted by rusty at 6:15 AM on April 15, 2009


didn't get through it though; too boring.
too depressing.
posted by camdan at 6:45 AM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]



I felt unclean after watching the documentary, like I saw the cool kids make fun of the class nerd in school, and I felt bad but i didn't speak up and didn't do anything about it. That kind of feeling. A bit ashamed of my own voyeurism.

Gross exploitative documentary, adds no insight into their lives or their illness

Probably will be a gross movie.

I suppose next they'll be a movie, from a documentary about some crazies raving on the New York Subway. Then we can all laugh at them, maybe make a musical out of it, and dress up in costume for halloween. We can all laugh and make fun of them and pat ourselves on the back about how "hip" we are.
posted by xetere at 7:00 AM on April 15, 2009


Little Edie comments on the Drew Barrymore casting.
posted by hermitosis at 7:05 AM on April 15, 2009


Some of Terry Gross's questions were weirdly invasive

Aren't Terry Gross's questions always weirdly invasive? And aren't publicists hip enough to alert a potential guest to that quality before the guest agrees to be booked on her show?
posted by blucevalo at 7:11 AM on April 15, 2009


I object to the critique of them as being simply "mentally ill" or that the movie's allure is in its cheap and cruel voyeurism. It's just not that simple. Believe it or not (and like it or not) these people are more than that to most people who love this movie.
posted by hermitosis at 7:13 AM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


I felt unclean after watching the documentary, like I saw the cool kids make fun of the class nerd in school, and I felt bad but i didn't speak up and didn't do anything about it. That kind of feeling. A bit ashamed of my own voyeurism.

Sort of the exact same way I felt after watching "Capturing the Friedmans."
posted by blucevalo at 7:15 AM on April 15, 2009


Ha. Edie doesn't seem too happy.
posted by stinkycheese at 7:16 AM on April 15, 2009


D'oh! hermitosis got there first.
posted by stinkycheese at 7:17 AM on April 15, 2009


Should have been cast as the Marble Faun:

-Justin Timberlake
-Crispin Glover
-Yahoo Serious
posted by Beardman at 7:50 AM on April 15, 2009


I suppose next they'll be a movie, from a documentary about some crazies raving on the New York Subway. Then we can all laugh at them, maybe make a musical out of it, and dress up in costume for halloween. We can all laugh and make fun of them and pat ourselves on the back about how "hip" we are.

Oh yeah, laughing at people is the only reason I watch stories about flawed yet compelling human beings. Because I am really fucking hip.

Sheesh, assuming you know what goes through the mind of every person who is interested in these people and this story is just as ick-making and condescending as the point of view you are mocking.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:34 AM on April 15, 2009


Calling this a remake really bugs me. How do you "remake" a documentary? Seriously. It's a fictionalized account of the story, based, however closely, on a documentary.

I do realize the official HBO site doesn't do this, thank the-deity-of-your-choice, but the rest of you... for shame!
posted by owtytrof at 10:52 AM on April 15, 2009


Is this the first time a documentary has been remade?

It's not a remake, but the Maysles film about high pressure bible peddlers, Salesmen, appears to have been an influence for the play and movie Glenn Garry Glenn Ross.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:36 PM on April 15, 2009


The documentary made me feel sad and uncomfortable and fascinated all at once. I'm looking forward to the HBO production.
posted by rtha at 1:03 PM on April 15, 2009


I just saw Grey Gardens for the first time a couple of weeks ago. It really made me want to do something with my life, I'll say that.
posted by katillathehun at 1:13 PM on April 15, 2009


I worked on this, and I really look forward to seeing it
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:20 PM on April 15, 2009


*I'm* looking forward. gah! talk like caveman. ug
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 3:03 PM on April 15, 2009


Not a house I would want to live in. Not with that history.

But I expect I am not as tough as the Bradlees....
posted by IndigoJones at 4:53 PM on April 15, 2009


Is this the first time a documentary has been remade?




Werner Herzog remade his own documentary Little Dieter needs to Fly with Rescue Dawn.
posted by tighttrousers at 8:13 PM on April 15, 2009


I saw the Musical version of Grey Gardens and was taken aback at the actresses' take on Little Edie's accent. It was such a broad shrill caricature. That I thought was mocking. Drew Barrymore's accent however is, from the trailer at least, freakin' eerie. I thinking of Mommie Dearest where Faye Dunaway didn't so much play Joan Crawford as be possessed by her. That enough is enough to make me interested.

Also, no more love for the Marble Faun's story? Gay Bar go-go boy turned Saudi gardener turned cab driver? Some people's lives don't need dramatic reenactments.
posted by The Whelk at 7:06 AM on April 16, 2009


Newsweek:
Drew Barrymore on 'Grey Gardens'.

Before reality TV, before dysfunction became chic, there were the Beales of 'Grey Gardens'.

Actor-writer Alan Cumming's take on why the film is a hit in the gay community.

posted by ericb at 2:19 PM on April 17, 2009


'Grey Gardens': Four step prep for tomorrow night's viewing on HBO!
posted by ericb at 2:22 PM on April 17, 2009


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