Dear Readers, Crystal from In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood is hosting The Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon, visit her website for event details!
For the event, I picked my favorite Barrymore, Drew, and her performance in the 2009 film Grey Gardens.
For those who do not know, Grey Gardens is a famous home in the Hamptons, and a 1975 documentary by the Maysles which focuses on its owners, Big Edie & Little Edie Bouvier Beale. If their names vaguely sound familiar, they should, these women are the aunt and cousin of Jackie O! These women are beloved by their fiercely protective fans. If you are not in The Cult of Beale, it is hard to understand their lasting appeal. For me, I think it is their incredible resilience.
I remember when I found out HBO made a movie starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore. Three years before, the musical Grey Gardens was a smash hit. People asked, do we need another Grey Gardens adaptation? Can a movie version add to the existing conversation about these phenomenal women?
HBO’s Grey Gardens takes place over forty years, if you love the documentary, you will adore this movie! These women, formerly New York socialites experience a massive reversal of fortune. The film covers Big Edie’s (Lange) marriage and divorce from Phelan Beale (Ken Howard), Little Edie’s (Barrymore) modeling and dance career, Little Edie’s failed romance with Julius Krug (Daniel Baldwin), their financial loss and sequestered lives.
Sequestered in a rundown summer cottage in the Hamptons infested with raccoons, cats, garbage, they eat ice cream and pâté (also known as cat food). These women are fabulous despite their surroundings. Big Edie revels in their squalid circumstances while poor Little Edie leads a life filled with missed chances. The Beale women’s loving yet volatile relationship is captured brilliantly in this film.
If you saw the documentary there are millions of unanswered questions, most importantly how could their family allow this to happen to them? This movie finally answers many of our questions! In the documentary, the Beales throw out random names but we never know the story beyond what the Beale women choose to share. The film introduces us to the people in their lives, it allows us to feel like an insider in the lives of these endlessly fascinating women.
One of the best scenes is when Jackie O (Jeanne Tripplehorn) arrives and (feebly) offers help to her aunt and cousin. Big Edie politely receives what is probably their first guest in years, while Little Edie paces like a tiger, and anxiously paws at Jackie’s gorgeous hair (Little Edie lost her hair and wore scarves). Little Edie needles Jackie about whether Jack Kennedy gave her gonorrhea, then descends to a desperate “I was supposed to be the First Lady speech”.
While all three women are incredible actors, Drew Barrymore steals the scene with her impeccable performance. She exhibits a gorgeous mixture of self-pity, loathing, jealousy, pride, and claustrophobia. Her complex and highly nuanced performance rivals with, “Where do I come in, Miss Gypsy Rose Lee” from Gypsy, or the moment Glenn Close picks up Christopher Walken’s head in Stepford Wives. She gives a fabulous moment one expects from Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, or Gloria Swanson! Drew Barrymore tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross:
I think she also felt sorry for herself in certain ways, where it was crippling to her. She was really afraid of a lot of things, and it’s ironic because she’s one of like the boldest, most quotable, entertaining characters, on the other hand, who is completely willing to expose herself and dance around the room, and loves being the center of attention, but she would also hide painfully inside of herself. … that stream of contradiction really for me was the thing that I kept hooking into when I tried to, you know, honor her by bringing her to life.
Drew Barrymore admits to having reservations about playing the part.
First of all, she’s an icon. So to imitate an icon is just very dangerous and intimidating. … a voice that’s so familiar, so recognizable and yet so distinctively unique –
But she channeled her apprehension into preparation. And readers, this film is the moment Drew Barrymore changed from cutesy to a phenomenal actor. Again with Terry Gross at Fresh Air:
I actually retrained my face. I studied for a year and a half with a woman named Liz Himmelstein, who’s one of the most renowned vocal coaches in our industry, and I spent every day, five days a week with her for a few hours a day training. … I retrained my face, because I talk out of the side of my mouth and in the back of my throat, and her lips are completely forward, and everything is in the front, and she speaks very much in sort of the nose and almost like a singer. And I also did things like, you know, I studied her curriculum at all the schools she went to. I read all of her journals that she wrote.
With non-linear storytelling, the 2009 film is a beautiful companion piece to the Grey Gardens documentary. But even if you do not watch the documentary, this picture is fantastic as a stand alone piece, and well-worth watching.
Drew Barrymore won a Golden Globe for her performance in 2010.
This post is part of the Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon running August 12-15th, with almost 80 participants, it’s clear the blogosphere loves this family. Other Drew Barrymore films covered for the event include: Ever After, Riding In Cars With Boys, The Wedding Singer, 50 First Dates, Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind, E.T., Everyone Says I Love You, Music And Lyrics, and Charlie’s Angels.
Gross, T. (2009, April 14). Drew Barrymore, From ‘E.T.’ To Little Edie Beale. Retrieved August 8, 2015. Npr.org. Web.
Grey Gardens the Movie is available on DVD, or you can buy it through Google Play for $12.99 here, it is also available for Amazon Prime customers.
The original documentary is part of the Criterion Collection Grey Gardens is available for Hulu Customers. There is a second documentary called The Beales of Grey Gardens, also available through Hulu.
Still can’t get enough of these women?
If you can get to Sag Harbor, NY, you are in luck! Broadway legend, Betty Buckley plays Big Edie in Grey Gardens the Musical for a limited engagement at The Bay Street Theatre, ticket info is here– 8/8-30/2015!