And I thought the Kennedy's were the odd family. Well, Jackie O had her own eccentric family members. I knew nothing about these two female members of the Onassis family and found the story odd, touching, tender, funny, sad, and engrossing. As much as those watching this HBO production without having seen the 1975 documentary on the two eccentric women will want to tear apart the performances by lead actresses Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange, I have to say that they could not be more wrong. Lange and Barrymore inhabit their characters and bring to life very accurately this odd mother and daughter duo.
During the 1930s daughter and mother, "Little Edie" (Drew Barrymore – E.T., Never Been Kissed) and "Big Edie" Beale (Jessica Lange – Tootsie, Blue Sky), lived the glamourous life of high society women. Little Edie was living in New York and trying to make it as an actress. Big Edie was married to Phelan Beale (Ken Howard – Michael Clayton, In Her Shoes). Once Phelan leaves Big Edie she withdraws to their summer home in Long Island – Grey Gardens. Unstable and a recluse she begins to lean too heavily on her delicate daughter.
The two women become inseparable and rarely leave the house. Without any source of income the house begins to fall down around them. It becomes overrun by cats and raccoons. By the 1970s the women are destitute. When finally the tabloids catch up to them after the health department declares the place unlivable, it is up to their relative Jackie Onassis (Jeanne Tripplehorn – from television's Big Love) to step in and save them.
You'll be as stupified as I was to see how these two Onassis women lived in poverty and isolation. Despite all their eccentricities these two women are charming and their devotion to one another is moving. In a story that spans over 40 years it really gives you insight and a feel for how these two women really lived.
Much of the credit for this has to go to Drew Barrymore (she surprised me with the high quality of her acting) and Jessica Lange. The way they made you understand the passive aggressive way that the mother would control her daughter. It is fascinating to see how co-dependant these two women became.
This is based on fact and shows the sometimes harrowing realities of parental control and personality disorder. It will also have you questioning what wealth is. Hard to believe that these two astonishing (in all meanings of the word) women's lives were almost forgotten. A fine film that honours its two subjects.
-Grey Gardens: Then and Now