Grey Gardens Open Thread

So, when I first heard that HBO was making a film of Grey Gardens, based on the iconic Maysles' documentary of the same name, I was dubious. When I heard Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore were playing Big Edie and Little Edie, I was less dubious, but still dubious all the same.

I love Grey Gardens, for all the reasons that anyone loves it—because it is endlessly fascinating, because the Edies are mad and dramatic and wonderful and perplexing and captivating, because there is a touch of the Edie in me. I love that it makes me want to declare anything that happens to me "the worst thing to happen in the history of America."

And I love it because it breaks my heart. The two staunch characters with artistic ambitions at its center are products of an aristocratic patriarchy that offered them no support or cultural infrastructure for anything except becoming a wife. It is an implicitly feminist film; criticism of the social structure that denied them both vocational opportunities and the chance to realize themselves as full human beings is embedded in every beautiful and tragic frame, even if unintentionally so.

Ergo, it was with some trepidation that I watched the HBO film this weekend, which sought to contextualize the years just before and during the making of Grey Gardens, to answer the question: How did they arrive there, in their dilapidated estate, surrounded by cats and raccoons and pâté, combining bath towels and heirloom jewelry into a weird sort of fashion, the singing and dancing stars of their own show? And what happened to Little Edie's hair?

Even as it was obvious that the two staunch characters were so determined to live their lives on their own terms that they'd sooner live in squalor than in any circumstances dictated by someone else, the details were a mystery—and the mystery was part of the magic.

I certainly didn't expect to adore a film that had the potential to undermine that magic, to make excuses or explanations that turned the Edies into caricatures, or rendered them knowable and typical and small. But I did. Because it did not do a disservice to the Big Edie and Little Edie; it neither canonized them nor mocked them. It loved them as much as I do.

And Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore were fantastic. They made me cry.

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