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There’s a lot of singing and dancing in HBO’s original movie “Grey Gardens,” a lot of beautiful period costumes and hair and a lot of rich, frothy Katharine Hepburn-meets-the-Kennedys accents. There’s even a semi-uplifting ending.
But don’t be fooled: This is no light comedy. It’s actually closer to a horror film.
For those not in the know, the story of Grey Gardens has undergone multiple iterations. First, it was reality: two relatives of Jackie Bouvier Kennedy (both named Edie Bouvier Beale) fell into genteel, then Collyer Brothers-style ruin in their Hamptons summer home. Next, their decrepitude was captured by documentarians the Maysles brothers for a 1975 film, and three decades later the tale landed on Broadway as a Tony-winning musical.
HBO’s feature brings the American tragedy full circle — a bright feature package tied with a dark ribbon. The film flashes back and forth between the Beales’ early life in glamorous 1930s New York to 40 years later, when they’re being filmed in 1975. The in-betweens come closer and closer until it becomes clear this is a disaster of the Beales’ own making.
The Edies were two women with a half-ounce of talent and a full measure of stubbornness, and they’re played beautifully in both old and young states by Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore, who give fearless performances of intriguing luminescence, their glow barely hiding a shared, steely eyed determination. (The makeup, lovingly applied and utterly realistic, also deserves kudos. And an Emmy.)
Director/co-producer/co-writer Michael Sucsy gets their plight, and he’s unflinching about exploiting it. But it’s hard to say he exposes the heart of his characters; Little Edie’s motivation remains a mystery.
She might have left home at any time, as she notes. But she didn’t, her mother shoots back. Why not? Unfortunately, this last mystery is beyond this version (or perhaps any version) of “Grey Gardens” to fully explore.
And that, ultimately, is the scariest revelation of all.
Airdate: 8-10 p.m., Saturday, April 18 (HBO)
Production: Specialty Films, Locomotive Films
Cast: Drew Barrymore, Jessica Lange, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Ken Howard, Daniel Baldwin, Arye Gross, Justin Louis, Malcom Gets
Executive producers: Lucy Donnelly, Rachael Horovitz, Michael Sucsy
Writers: Michael Sucsy, Patricia Rozema
Producer: David Coatsworth
Director: Michael Sucsy
Director of photography: Mike Eley
Production designer: Kalina Ivanov
Costume designer: Catherine Marie Thomas
Casting: Ellen Parks
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