The Maysles brothers’ 1975 cult documentary about a blueblood mother and daughter who gradually lose everything (including their collective grip on reality) to become trapped by squalor has spawned a musical, a handful of plays and the most recent adaptation, an HBO original film starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore. The fact that the down-on-its-luck East Hampton duo was closely related to Jacquie Bouvier Kennedy Onassis makes their offbeat story that much more interesting.
In the cable version of Grey Gardens, recently released on DVD, Lange and Barrymore channel “Big Edie” and “Little Edie” respectively, reenacting moments from the documentary about the struggling recluses’ idiosyncrasies and extreme case of co-dependence. Although the seasoned Lange is bound to get the kudos for her performance as a manipulative mom and “cat woman,” Barrymore’s portrayal of the odd woman-child with aspirations for the stage really resonates
The movie gives us insight into the series of events that left the former socialites delusional and with barely enough money for groceries. It answers questions about who they used to be and where they wound up in the mid-1970s. Extras on the DVD include a comparison of the theatrical movie with the documentary and a commentary track that explains how the shots were recreated and how the filmmakers interviewed friends and researched journals to come up with what they believe was an accurate back story. It panders a bit to the actors, but it did answer a few questions and fill in some holes. Overall, the DVD’s well worth renting after you see the film that inspired it.