Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Grey Gardens

By s. Wednesday, November 2, 2011 , , , , , , , , , ,
(104 min, 2009)
Director: Michael Sucsy

Writers: Michael Sucsy (teleplay), Patricia Rozema (teleplay)

Stars: Drew Barrymore, Jessica Lange and Jeanne Tripplehorn

Freedom in the prison of memories

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”
― Oscar Wilde

Based on the life stories of the eccentric aunt and first cousin of Jackie Onassis (both named Edith Bouvier Beale aka "Big and Little Edie") raised as Park Avenue débutantes but who withdrew from New York society, taking shelter at their Long Island summer home, "Grey Gardens." As their wealth and contact with the outside world dwindled, so did their grasp on reality. They were reintroduced to the world when international tabloids learned of a health department raid on their home, and Jackie swooped in to save her relatives. 

Had "Grey Gardens" been cinematic release instead of HBO movie, the history of the awards season in 2010 would be so much different.. This is a very unique, character driven film with two fabulous performances - Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore, both in career best turns. The story alone is fascinating - two women, mother and daughter, relatives of Jaqueline Bouvier, refusing to leave decaying estate, living among the filth and stray animals. That story actually happened - in 1975 a documentary was made about the Beales and it was even screened in Cannes.
We meet Beales as Edith senior is still married, little Eddie is objecting to finding a husband and Grey gardens are in their prime. Both women were always very eccentric - Edith loved singing and threw extravagant parties, openly showing affection to her kids' music teacher, even in front of her husband. Little Eddie didn't want to get married, wanted to be an actress and a singer. Both women had incredible joie de vivre, one thing they would never lose. They were warned many times - that the money will run out, that they have to think about their future - but they insisted on living in the present, with no worries, only joy.

Things took turn for the worse when Edith is left alone in the house and little Eddie goes on for search of andventure to New York. Clashing with real world and its cruelty, causes the prompt return of Eddie to Grey Gardens - the place that will become both her prison and her sanctuary. Eddie would remain there, alone with her mother for many years after that, when the place keeps rotting, animals keep going to bathroom all around, the electricity and heat are cut off and the gardens start behaving like both women - doing whatever they want, accepting their nature. You probably think that it's sad - but Edith and Eddie never worried, they always found a way - they had each other, their sharp minds and they didn't care what the others were thinking. They were very friendly towards everyone - the photographer who hid in the bushes to take pictures of the rotting mansion, the men who were doing documentary and later on in life - Eddie would correspond with her fans, up until she died, at the age of 85.
After the raid of authorities and news hitting the press, Jaquline Bouvier, cousin of Little Eddie and the former first lady took the matter into her own hands and helped clean up Grey Gardens. Jeanne Tripplehorn makes a brief appearance as Jackie O - how come in 2011 we still don't have any decent movie about America's most famous and most iconic first lady? Tripplehorn is very good in her role - beautiful, elegant and kind. Of course after the clean up it only took few months for the place to fall into disarray again. Why wouldn't the women just try to keep the estate in a proper state? The mansion was very big, the upkeep was insane and things just started piling up. Edith refused to sell the place and after her death, when little Eddie finally decided to move on she sold it under the condition it will not be destroyed. It took new owners nearly four years to renovate the house. Perhaps both women felt that the chaos was the perfect reflection of their spirits - they both never did what they were asked for - they never gave up of their dreams.
The most fascinating thing about the film is the relationship between mother and daughter - Edith is very controlling, but she loves her daughter so much. She didn't push little Eddie hard enough to live on her own, she never objected to the fact, that her daughter stayed with her, isolated from the world. On the other hand little Eddie - as she herself said - could have left at any time. Yes, she was fragile, but after all it comes down to this - she chose this life. Her mother was always there for her, unlike anyone else in her life.

Drew Barrymore's performance as little Eddie is astonishing - she plays such a bizarre character, but you fall in love with her - you feel for her when bad things happen and it's so uplifting to see that she never loses her spirit and joyful disposition. Jessica Lange is extremely charismatic as her mother, a little bit crazy, a little controlling and ultimately - filled with love for her Eddie. The make up also deserves praise - we see the women in their young and old years and especially with Lange, it's almost hard to recognize her.
"Grey Gardens" is a wonderful films about embracing your true nature and going against the world, no matter what people say or do. Some will think what the women did was unhealthy - locking themselves in their own, private, Chaosland, without contact wih everybody else. But little Eddie didn't stay there to fall into self pity - she was reading, she was creating, she was dancing. After selling the estate she went on to live in the places she always wanted to live, she spoke in the galleries and museums, she enchanted everyone who met her with her incredible joy. What kept her in this masion all this years, wasn't self pity - it was her love for her mother, the only person who was just like her.

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