The Beales Of Grey Gardens

  • 2006
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Documentary

Not a sequel to the groundbreaking GREY GARDENS (1976) but a rethinking with variant footage, this cinema-verite examination of mother-and-daughter eccentrics Mrs. and Miss Edith Bouvier Beale opened on the heels of a resurgence of interest in the offbeat "Big Edie" and "Little Edie." In the early 1970s, the documentary team of Albert Maysles, David Maysles...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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Not a sequel to the groundbreaking GREY GARDENS (1976) but a rethinking with variant footage, this cinema-verite examination of mother-and-daughter eccentrics Mrs. and Miss Edith Bouvier Beale opened on the heels of a resurgence of interest in the offbeat "Big Edie" and "Little Edie." In the early 1970s, the documentary team of Albert Maysles, David Maysles and Ellen Hovde set out to make a film about Lee Radziwill, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis' sister, but instead got sidetracked by her aunt and cousin, living in squalor in a crumbling East Hampton mansion dubbed "Grey Gardens." The original film focused on the contentious relationship between the elderly Mrs. Beale, a headstrong blueblood whose husband divorced her after she countered his infidelities by becoming a nightclub singer, and her middle-aged daughter, whose vague ambitions were consistently thwarted by her mother's demanding dependence. Absorbing and discomfiting in equal parts, the film ignited passionate debate about the relationship between documentary filmmakers and their subjects: When they opened a window onto these bizarre, hermetic lives, were the Maysles exploiting two lonely, mentally disordered Miss Havishams or empowering a pair of defiant nonconformists? Three decades later, a resurgence of interest in the Beales — by then both deceased — manifested itself in ways large and small, from a critically praised off-Broadway musical Grey Gardens and feature-film project starring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange, to an e-book by friend Lois Wright ( My Life at Grey Gardens: Thirteen Months and Beyond), a song by Rufus Wainwright and a shout-out on the pop-culture-savvy TV series Gilmore Girls. Albert Maysles returned to the outtakes from the original version (David died in 1987) and assembled "Grey Gardens vo. 1.5," which is equally dominated by Little Edie's wide-ranging ramblings, touching on subjects as various as her relationship with the Catholic church, her inability to find a secure niche in the outside world, her love of performing and fashion, her thoughts about the energy crisis and her persecution by East Hampton authorities. This last sounds like paranoia but is in fact a fair description of the conservative, moneyed town's efforts to deal with the fact that the Beales were something of an embarrassment by using health-code violations and building ordinances to try to force the women from their own home. Fans of the first film will want to see this extension, though it stands equally well on its own as a portrait of thwarted, headstrong women trapped in a degraded present and borne back ceaselessly into the past.

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  • Released: 2006
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Not a sequel to the groundbreaking GREY GARDENS (1976) but a rethinking with variant footage, this cinema-verite examination of mother-and-daughter eccentrics Mrs. and Miss Edith Bouvier Beale opened on the heels of a resurgence of interest in the offbeat… (more)

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