With the current state of the economy, losing one’s wealth is a relatable topic. People are now becoming increasingly familiar with living one day as the cream of the crop and living the next without access to riches. When the story of the Bouvier-Beales was first presented in the 1975 documentary “Grey Gardens,” the public became fascinated by the story of a mother and daughter related to Jackie Kennedy who were discovered to be living in squalor in the East Hamptons. Despite living in the lap of luxury throughout the 1930s and 1940s, the duo (Big and Little Edie) ultimately became a cautionary tale of money management and codependency. When a documentary crew interviewed them for a film about the Bouviers, the two were discovered in utter filth, without electricity or running water with diseased cats and raccoons roaming throughout the house. Through actual footage, the unhealthy relationship between the mother and daughter was revealed.
HBO’s interpretation of the documentary premiered last Saturday, showcasing incredible storytelling and mesmerizing performances by the two lead actresses. Jessica Lange impressively portrays Big Edie as a gregarious broad, eager to sing at local Hamptons parties and determined to marry her daughter off to a suitable beau. Lange has graciously endured hours of makeup to appear as Big Edie later in life—she genuinely looks like a woman in her 80s, down to the ragged teeth and saggy arms. Lange gives a tour-de-force performance as a woman who refuses to be a wallflower, and is so set on living life to the fullest that she barely notices when her own life has become unmanageable.
While two-time Oscar winner Lange is impressive, it is Drew Barrymore, as Little Edie, who truly steals the movie. There were industry concerns over the casting of Barrymore. She has previously been in romantic comedies, starring and producing movies like “Never Been Kissed” and “Fever Pitch.” However, the actress dove into the role and completely became the character for this project. She plays Little Edie with reverence and sympathy, displaying her highs and lows with equal respect. Barrymore even successfully conquered the accent, while forgetting her usual side-mouthed speech patterns (the actress has admitted that she took over a year of classes with a diction coach to sound like Little Edie.)
Although only in a few scenes, Jeanne Tripplehorn is amazingly subtle as Jackie Kennedy Onassis (she is already married to Ari in the scene in which she appears in.) Tripplehorn has been doing a remarkable job as Barb Henrickson on HBO’s other show “Big Love,” and she adds a quiet glamour to the other more boisterous characters in this movie.
The film is excellently written and directed by Michal Sucsy, and the dialogue contains enough saucy quips and witticisms from the two Edies to make up for the otherwise sobering account of the women. But the costuming in the film is by far the most impressive part of the production. Catherine Marie Thomas has blended together a slew of glamorous gowns from the 30s and the eccentric turbans and capes that Little Edie grows to love later in her life.
This movie is airing repeatedly over the next month on HBO—be sure to catch it for a glimpse into the lives of these captivating women.