Grey Gardens Reviews
(Full review TBD)
Having already seen the original documentary of Grey Gardens (1975) I'm well aware of the history behind Edith "Bid Edie" Ewing Bouvier Beale and her daughter "Little Edie". For audiences to appreciate this film in its entirety they really must be familiar with the documentary, because otherwise it could easily be a tedious experience to be constantly flipping back and fourth between the contemporary recreation of the documentary process that was captured by Albert and David Maysles in 1975 and the contextualization behind the subjects that they covered. This film is a companion piece to the documentary which expands upon the lives of the Beales and the process of the documentary itself, so as a standalone piece it doesn't necesarrily carry the strength to stand on its own two feet with the most entertainment value. But the film must be viewed as a companion piece; as it is an expansion on an iconic documentary and a prequel at the same time. In that regard there is much satisfactory filmmaking to compensate for its narrative structure.
The Grey Gardens documentary has already established what historical relevance the characters have, so Michael Sucsy's film chooses to expand upon the mother-daughter relationship that was touched upon and precisely what lead to the events chronicled in the original documentary as well as what happened following it. The final act of the film is not the most interesting as the depiction of the succeeding events to the documentary plays out more like an epilogue than a necesarry narrative piece, and the short running time of the film means that all this wraps up with a bit too much optimism for its own good rather than taking the time to develop things to a more appropriate extent. Still, the preceding story elements are certainly enough to suffice.
The story itself is supported by a script which is accurate in capturing the true nature of its subjects and a realistic sense of drama stemming from the mother-daughter relationship. It is a compelling analysis of its characters, even if it is a rather familiar one. Familiar not just in the sense that the story was covered by the documentary but also by the fact that the film occasionally slips into melodramatic territory and becomes driven by cliche plot points. The success of the film stems more from the fact that Michael Suczy is able to wring some genuine drama out of the material with stylish directorial work. He really bolsters the credibility of the story because although it only occurs within a handful of settings, the detailed production design and costumes ensures that the intentions of capturing the story's timeframe are consistently accurate. The colour scheme evokes the feeling of a film from the classical era to reinforce this. Of course the best visual asset that Grey Gardens has to boast is the fact that its small budget is used properly enough to reconstruct its titular estate with grand accuracy. By contrast to the extensive dilapidated damage depicted in the actual setting, the accuracy in the design of the setting is a thing of beauty. Michael Suczy captures the style and substance of Grey Gardens with plenty of grace, bolstering the feature through some of its lesser moments.
But it's truly the cast who deserve the credit for such a magnificent accomplishment with Grey Gardens.
Drew Barrymore has long been an actress I've admired, but never has she faced a challenge to the same extent as Grey Gardens. Though she's well-known largely for her work in comedy films, Grey Gardens is a film she is truly challenged by yet refuses to hold back on. One of the first things Drew Barrymore is challenged to do in Grey Gardens is to re-enact footage from the original documentary which gives viewers an immediate chance to grasp the extent of accuracy that she maintains over capturing Edith "Little Edie" Bouvier Beale is purely remarkable. Her detail ranges from articulation of the woman's accent to a sense of grace in every slight movement she performs. Drew Barrymore captures multiple sides to the woman, starting from her ambitious days of youth and developing it into the woman seen in the documentary as her ill-fated life unfolds in front of her. You can just sit and watch as Drew Barrymore transforms herself in Grey Gardens and finds a new level of dramatic charisma within her which has laid dormant for too long and is finally available to see in all its glory. Drew Barrymore's performance is one of the finest of her career, and its a testament to her long underutilized dramatic skills in a powerful form.
Jessica Lange also delivers a powerhouse effort. The dual Academy Award-winner has proven many times just how easily she can capture any role she wishes to take on, and Grey Gardens is another credible entry into her filmography of long success. She looks the part perfectly and maintains a real sense of internal emotional struggle which she restrains well enough to deliver a gracefully subtle effort. But of course the real achievement comes from her chemistry with Drew Barrymore. Jessica Lange's combination of strength and frailty creates an accurate depiction of Edith "Bid Edie" Ewing Bouvier Beale, and the combination of her and Drew Barrymore works together to create a truly memorable spectacle of acting.
Jeanne Tripplehorn's small appearance as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis captures the appearance of the woman perfectly while her chemistry with Jessica Lange provides a powerful dramatic moment for the both of them.
Grey Gardens' limited narrative relies on the viewer's familiarity with the documentary of the same name to provide a greater appreciation and deeper understanding of the film, but with Drew Barrymore's finest dramatic efforts leading the film and a powerful chemistry with Jessica Lange to support her, it ends up being an appropriate companion piece to the Maysles brothers film.