Sunday, April 19, 2009

Grey Gardens, HBO Production: The Remorseless Review

Because I'm sure you're keeping track, you're well aware that the premiere of the HBO movie production of "Grey Gardens" happened last night. We watched fortified with wine, salad, bread sticks and twelve pounds of lasagna. We pre-tuned with an hour or so of The Beales of Grey Gardens (a 2006 follow-up to the original doc). We addressed each other in our best Big and Little Edie voices. We broke into song without warning and for no particular reason. We speculated on possible reasons why the cast of the Broadway musical is alreadying panning Drew Barrymore's performance. We pondered how there can possibly be people in this world actually not interested in viewing the premier of a movie that tells the story (again) of two crusty old ladies living in squalor and cat poop in an overgrown, dilapidated mansion in the Hamptons (go figure). We read over the original Broadway playbill. Stephanie did her Little Edie flag dance. We considered dressing the dogs up as cats. We investigated whether or not Kim Basinger lost a finger.

Okay, so that last thing is unrelated. (She didn't, by the way. Kim is still in posession of all her digits, near as we can figure.)

We took it as an excellent omen that we tuned into HBO at the very second the movie began.

And then we watched the movie.

We watched it for an hour and a half. Because that's how long it was.

There were things HBO got right, to be sure. The costumes, the sets, the make-up on Drew Barrymore (who played Little Edie) and Jessica Lange (who played Big Edie) were superb. I mean, they absolutely NAILED the look of Grey Gardens and the Beales. Drew and Jessica so closely resembled their counterparts that, at times, for a few seconds, one could easily believe they were the Beales. There is a scene where Drew as Little Edie is lying on the beach that is truly amazing in this regard. The make-up is flawless and there is no question that Drew is totally believable as the fifty-something eccentric.

Jessica Lange's portrayal of Big Edie was excellent. The voice, the absolutely giving over of herself to this character is amazing and succeeds pretty much at all times. Barrymore, on the other hand, while beguiling and occasionally successful, does not in the end live up to the role. Her accent tends to come and go. And, while I'm not sure any actress is up to the task of bringing to life this unique one-of-a-kind personality, Drew just doesn't quite meet the mark.

Which brings me to my biggest problem with the film. And this is not an easy distinction to make. But the problem here, I think, is one of perspective. On the face of it, the Beale's story is, indeed, that of formerly rich relatives of Jackie Kennedy Onassis who fall on hard times and descend into living a life of desperation and mean poverty. Okay, we get that and those facts add additional sparkle to the story. But those facts aren't the point. The point is, the amazing characters these women are; how mesmerizing they are to watch, how fascinating it is to witness their monologues. I mean, these are two seriously Staunch Characters. (And I'm sorry to report this famous phrase, originally stated by Little Edie in the documentary, was not even included in the HBO production. Hello?)

What Grey Gardens should be is a character study with an underlying riches-to-rags story. What this HBO production turned out to be is the exact opposite: a riches-to-rags story with some underlying character development. And, while I can understand the temptation to stress the Jackie Kennedy connection is hard to resist, again, that isn't the point. Big and Little Edie are plenty interesting enough on their own. HBO didn't need to waste our time with the Jackie Kennedy appearance to make it interesting. In fact, this proves distracting and adds to the lack of focus, in my opinion.

Last, the aforementioned running time. Why on earth would HBO pour such resources and talent into a production on a subject so potentially rich in detail and then only manage a paltry hour-and-a-half running time? It smacks of made-for-TV-movie. Lifetime would have given us more.

So, no, HBO's "Grey Gardens" was not what we'd hoped.

Still, it was a great excuse for lasagna and reindeer games.


Stephanie said...

NO CAYTS WERE HARMED in the MAKKKIng of this film...i mean...what the ????

Brenda said...

Those women were fascinating. (Too bad HBO didn't get it right!)