Grey Gardens is an HBO film about the lives of Edith Bouvier Beale/"Little Edie", played by Drew Barrymore, and her mother Edith Ewing Bouvier/"Big Edie", played by Jessica Lange. Co-stars include Jeanne Tripplehorn as Jacqueline Kennedy (Little Edie's cousin) and Ken Howard as Phelan Beale (Little Edie's father). The film, directed by Michael Sucsy and co-written by Sucsy and Patricia Rozema, flashes back and forth between various events and dates ranging from Little Edie as a young débutante in 1936 moving with her mother to their Grey Gardens estate through the filming and premiere of the actual 1975 documentary Grey Gardens.
Filming for the HBO film began on October 22, 2007 in Toronto. It first aired on HBO on April 18, 2009.
The film won the 2009 Television Critics Association award for Outstanding Achievement Movies, Miniseries, and Specials. It was also nominated for 17 Primetime Emmy Awards, winning Outstanding Made for Television Movie, Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie (Lange) and Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie (Howard). It was also nominated for 3 Golden Globe Awards, winning Best Made for Television Movie and Best Actress in a Made for Television Movie (Barrymore). Lange was also nominated in this category.
The film is based on the life stories of the eccentric paternal aunt and first cousin of Jackie Kennedy, both named Edith Bouvier Beale. The elder Edith Bouvier Beale was the sister of Jackie Kennedy's father John Vernou Bouvier III and was referred to as "Big Edie", her daughter was referred to as "Little Edie". The Beale women were members of NYC high society, but in their later years, withdrew from the New York City life, taking shelter at their Long Island summer home/estate Grey Gardens. The house eventually fell into a state of disrepair that gave the Beale women notoriety.
Phelan Beale (husband of "Big Edie" and father of "Little Edie"), eventually divorced "Big Edie." In the movie, "Little Edie" decides to move to New York to pursue a career in acting (as well as an ill-fated romance with a high-profile married man). "Little Edie" sadly and slowly realizes her fate is to remain her mother's companion at Grey Gardens. The two women become reclusive and known around town as the highly eccentric proprietors of Grey Gardens, which has become decrepit and full of stray animals taken in by the Beale women. The plot includes the filming of the documentary Grey Gardens by Albert and David Maysles as well as events in the Beales' past, including their arrival at the estate, the disintegration of Big Edie's marriage, Little Edie's failed attempts to have her own life, and events subsequent to the premiere of the documentary.
The movie ends with Little Edie singing "Tea for Two" at the Reno Sweeney cabaret in Greenwich Village, and the quote, "My mother gave me a truly priceless life."Drew Barrymore as 'Little' Edith Bouvier Beale
Jessica Lange as 'Big' Edith Bouvier Beale
Jeanne Tripplehorn as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
Ken Howard as Phelan Beale
Kenneth Welsh as Max Gordon
Arye Gross as Albert Maysles
Justin Louis as David Maysles
Daniel Baldwin as Julius Krug
Malcolm Gets as George 'Gould' Strong
Louis Grise as Young Buddy
Joshua Peace as Adult Buddy
Neil Babcock as Young Phelan Jr.
Ben Carlson as Adult Phelan Jr.
Olivia Waldriff as Young Jackie
Neil Girvan as Concierge
Michael Sucsy said that he used primary sources to flesh out the story including letters and journals kept by Little Edie. He also interviewed family members and friends including Lois Wright who lived in the house and wrote her own book about the events. Albert Maysles is credited as a source in the movie. Sucsy said that the house facade as well as the interior were created from blueprints. Sucsy said that an aerial shot of the house circa 1936 was historically accurate on the placement of the house in relation to other mansions in East Hampton at the time (although requiring CGI enhancements to create the illusion). As with many movies based on historical events, some events in the Beales' lives, such as the timing of Big Edie and Phelan's divorce, were shifted to make a more coherent story.
The entire film was shot in Ontario, with most of the shots in metropolitan Toronto. The Valley Halla Estate in Rouge Park was the setting of exterior shots of Grey Gardens. Waterfront shots were on Centre Island in the Toronto Islands. Hotel shots were at the Fairmont Royal York. Studio work was done at Toronto Film Studios.
The aerial shot of The Pierre was licensed from An Affair to Remember.
Post-production was done in New York and Los Angeles. The DVD commentary was done in the same studio where the Maysles mixed the original documentary.
The movie since released has been lauded by many critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 100% out of 10 professional critics gave the film a positive review. Ben Lyons from At the Movies raved: "Drew Barrymore is fantastic in this film." Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers also raved: "The script hits a few bumps, but Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore are magnificent as the bizarro Beales. Barrymore is a revelation. Aging into her 60s and transformed in voice and bearing, she finds Edie's unquenchable spirit. Brava."
The film received a Golden Globe for Best Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television, while Drew Barrymore received a Golden Globe for her role as Little Edie. Jessica Lange was also nominated for a Golden Globe for her role as Big Edie.
Drew Barrymore received a SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries for her role as Little Edie. Jessica Lange was also nominated in the same category.
The film won the 2009 Television Critics Association award for Outstanding Achievement Movies, Miniseries, and Specials.
The film's 17 Primetime Emmy Award nominations in 2009 for the 61st Primetime Emmy Awards, including three for Sucsy, tied the all-time nomination record for Outstanding Made for Television Movies:Outstanding Made for Television Movie (Won)
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie – Drew Barrymore
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie – Jessica Lange (Won)
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie – Ken Howard (Won)
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie – Jeanne Tripplehorn
Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or Dramatic Special – Michael Sucsy
Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries, Movie or Dramatic Special – Michael Sucsy, and Patricia Rozema
As well as:Outstanding Art Direction for a Miniseries or a Movie (Won)
Outstanding Casting for a Miniseries, Movie, or Special
Outstanding Cinematography for a Miniseries or Movie
Outstanding Costumes for a Miniseries, Movie, or Special
Outstanding Hairstyling for a Miniseries or Movie (Won)
Outstanding Makeup for a Miniseries or Movie (Non-Prosthetic)
Outstanding Prosthetic Makeup for a Series, Miniseries, Movie, or Special (Won)
Outstanding Music Composition for a Miniseries, Movie, or Special (Original Dramatic Score)
Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Miniseries or Movie
Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Miniseries or Movie
The Academy Award-winning composer Rachel Portman provided the film score. In addition to Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, the album includes vocal performances by the movie's lead actresses, Jessica Lange (on "We Belong Together" and "I Won't Dance" sung with Malcolm Gets) and Drew Barrymore (on "Tea for Two").