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4.7 out of 5 stars43
4.7 out of 5 stars
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on December 16, 2003
Once you see this film you are hooked. It's as if Little Edie and Big Edie take over your senses. Perhaps one of the oddest films I've ever seen. Intially I didn't even know what to think..truly a bizarre slice of life these two women. It should not be missed.
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on August 4, 2009
These women were mesmerizing to observe. What a life.
The Maysles captured an amazing story.
Beautiful young Edie, lost in her own world. Big Edie trying to maintain her dreams. Together what a study of mother/daughter devotion.
You must purchase the movie with Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange. These talented actresses portrayed these American high breds so perfectly through their rise and fall from debutante balls to pitiful social decay. Bravo
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon December 6, 2015
Decades before HOARDERS and the Kardashians and the cesspool of Reality TV, GREY GARDENS took an intimate look at the daily lives of two fallen women of former aristocracy: Big Edie and Little Edie Beale in this trainwreck of a documentary that shows their hilarious yet tragic co-dependency among filthy living conditions in a dilapidated mansion.

I can't say this warrants repeat viewings but once it's on you cannot stop watching. The funniest bits are the small trivial moments that demonstrate the ladies' bizarre attitudes toward everyday life like when guests arrive for a birthday party and Big Edie remarks that the dining room chairs are dirty, Little Edie simply lines them all with newspapers! Later she is seen ripping open bags of Wonder Bread to scatter in the attic for the hungry raccoons. And when a black cat is seen defecating behind a vintage oil painting of Mama Beale, she just shrugs it off and says she feels honored! Little Edie's presumable hair loss is covered by her resourceful use of various scarves, towels, sweaters and flags as fashionable headwear and her favorite outfit of choice seems to be a 1940s styled leopard print bathing suit paired with well-worn white dancing heels. Mama also favors strapless swimwear but hers succumbs to gravity at the most inopportune moments.

Both of these women are clearly off their rockers yet the picture doesn't really seem as exploitive as it could have been. Still, worth a look for fans of offbeat cinema.
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on April 5, 2004
Happened to catch this on the IFC when first released...was absolutely riveted!!! I think it holds even more meaning if you are a female.......I made my mother watch it and we could not believe the similarities altho we are not like the Beale family. (I do get out..I am a flight attendant) But my mother and I are extremely close and the "dance" those two do are strikingly familiar to me what is most apparent at first glance is the despiration Edie feels about leaving, she reminds me of a person that is incarcerated..time stops for their emotional, mental growth. Then it makes me angry that Big Edie could ever be so selfish as to just "take" her daughters life from her..was it out of jealousy?Was it truly out of need? Did she just give up after her husband left her? You almost feel that it was all meant to be tho, especially from the way Big Edie describes her sons, she saw them so differently than she saw Edie. And then,times were so different for women back then.Excellant movie,I am sure the Kennedy and Bouvier Families were mortified!!! But we love them!!! It would be wonderful to see such individuality in everyone!
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on December 6, 2003
The old woman (Big Edie) and the her elder daughter (Little Edie), both confined to a large, old, decrept home, focused on lost memories and events that never happened.
Little Edie is largely focused on her youth, wishing that she had taken up opportunities in the past that she turned down. Her mother, Big Edie, tells her daughter that her regret over not doing things in the past is meaningless because back then, Little Edie genuinely did not want to do those things. That is perhaps one of the most philosophical moments in the documentary.
This film is very revealing, and it is a truly intimate portrayal of two women. You learn more about then perhaps than you otherwise would in a typical documentary that asks why they are important, what is their significance to their rich and well-known relative, Jackie O, and how did they end up in this situation.
This movie will be implanted in the public persona for many years to come, particularly because of the radical fashion sense of Little Edie, and also because she demonstrates that people do change their behavior, if even slightly, once a camera is nearby.
Michael Gordon
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on July 22, 2003
Personal tragedy, extreme eccentricity and isolation are the ties that bind an elderly mother and her aging daughter to their decrepit estate in the Hamptons. Edith Bouvier (the daughter) is first cousin to Jackie Bouvier aka Jackie Kennedy but something bad has happened to this side of the pedigree. The money seems to have run out, the house in sympathy with the general state of affairs is in rapid decline and taking the grounds with it. The women, ostracized by the Hampton elite, must feed off each other for companionship telling the same stories, expressing the same pain over and over - until that is the film crew shows up. Edith (a woman in her 60's) begins to blossom, flirt and dance with and for the camera. Having a fresh audience Edith, inbetween costume changes, coyly tells the camera her family secrets. While the mother, also named Edith, lays in bed with her numerous cats and tells a different tale. Rather then take you out of their world the camera crew acts as a liaison between the cloistral world of mother and daughter. Grey Gardens is the reason I love documentary film making - for the pure voyeuristic pleasure of people watching.
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on May 19, 2003
Being a biography buff, I was familiar with Kennedy-Bouvier lore but somehow had skipped right over any reference to Big and Little Edie. When I saw the documentary on Sundance Cable and ordered the DVD I instantly became enthralled with these two fascinating characters. I have watched the film many, many times, and feel that I have discovered friends that I want to protect and care for (although reality forces me to accept that they are gone forever, and it is as if family members have left me). After each viewing I don't want to leave their home and presence. The emotion I feel for them is amazing, running amok. That the Maysles have been able to capture real lives and real character this way is phenomenal. You will love the Beales, be entertained by them, then suffer and hurt for them. With all your heart you want them to be okay and you make yourself believe that somewhere Big Edie sings a melody written in adoration of her by Gould while Little Edie dances, with her scarf made of rainbows fluttering about her head of glorious hair.
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on January 29, 2002
There is nothing like...nor will there ever be anything like "Grey Gardens"; the hysterical, tragic, devastating, yet uplifting portrait of two extraordinary women who, despite great strength and character, are ultimately defined and paralyzed by their class. At times it plays like a East Hampton "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane"-- at others, it is as moving and tragic as anything that came out of the mind of O'Neill or Miller. To spend a few hours with the Beale women is to reflect on a lifetime of choices we make, choices that are made for us, and the difficulty inherent in coming to terms with both. From "Little" Edie's exposition on choosing her "costume of the day" to her unforgettable rendition of the BMI march song "Grey Gardens" is a film to be not only watched, but experienced. Whether you are entertained, saddened, or horrified, you will never forget "Big" Edith Bovier Beale, and her daughter,the late, great "Little" Edie.
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on January 27, 2002
This stellar portrayal of two women, a mother and daughter, who spend their days in a run down house and are ironically aunt and cousin to Jackie O, displays documentary film-making at its very best. Although much has been said about the film, the focus always tends to emphasize the sordid living conditions that Edith Bovier Beale and her unmarried daughter, Little Edie inhabit, in an old estate in Easthampton, New York. Their house has been condemned by officials in Easthampton, and they live with cats and raccoons, but they don't give a damn about it. They are virtual recluses in their upscale community, "full of nasty Republicans." However, the film is not about the squalor that most of us would balk at in conventional situations. Their surroundings are only a backdrop and metaphor for the lost opportunities, and isolation that the women are subjected to as societal outcasts. Whether this is by choice, or due to their eccentricities is a mixed bag, but "Big Edie" and "Little Edie" are such magnetically charged women, it is fair to say that they are their own superstars within the world they have created.
Much of the film's pathos is magnified by the mother and daughter relationship. Little Edie, once a gorgeous, brilliant young woman feels she has been forced to sacrifice her life and a potential career as an entertainer, to look after her mother. Big Edie, once a veritable beauty in her day, was written out of her father's will for her aspirations to become a singer, and after her divorce retreated to her sea-side estate to spend the rest of her days. It is apparent that both women are extremely co-dependent, but in spite of their inherent needs to look after each other, Little Edie is full of resentment over the arrangement. She points this out again and again, letting us know that when she is with her mother, she doesn't feel like a woman, but rather a little girl. However, both have clearly been dominated by strict, critical male figures in their pasts, and they do enjoy a sense of freedom and independence in their solitude, even if it comes at the expense of their abilitiy to inhabit the outside world. Little Edie insists throughout the film, that she must get out and move to New York, "My days at Grey Gardens are limited" she tells the Maysles' camera crew, who record every nuance with objectivity, and a keen eye for descriptive detail of both women and their amazing story.
This is a complex narrative, and it unfolds with intelligent, and often hilarious dialogue from both Big and Little Edie. Little Edie's sense of fashion is truly "revolutionary" and has been copied and imitated by several designers. Big Edie is more staid, she has "had her cake, eaten it, chewed it, masticated it" while Little Edie emerges as a thwarted Goddess, who feels she never even got a bite of the cake, so to speak. She proclaims herself to be the "greatest dancer in the world" yet alone in the house with her mother, their is no other audience for her to creatively conquer. We watch her, and we are captivated by her, and we accept what she tells us, because she is so emotive and honest.
Fiction could never fully capture the beauty and the sadness that this film evokes. Although we love to laugh with it, it is also a poignant epic, magnifying moments in Big Edie and Little Edie's lives with uncanny depth and awareness of the subjects. It is simultaneoulsy lyrical, funny and sad. Those who view it and do not understand that this is a masterpiece, are missing the point of this work. And what is that point? I believe it circles around the choices that are made for us, the choices we do make, and the choices we don't make, and how our fates are are affected by these events.
I give "Grey Gardens" six stars, and I hope you enjoy it. It is a film that can be viewed several times, and there is always something new to discover every time it is screened.
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on October 9, 2001
Whatever anyone says, this is not a film about the degradation of high society or the underbelly it's ashamed of. To label it as such demeans the Beales, dismisses them, relegates them a heap of mere eccentrics, renders them caricatures. If 'Grey Gardens' is a tragedy or cautionary tale, its moral points to society's abadonment of, and disdain for, the free spirit. This is an overlying circumstance to the film, though, and not its most important facet.
Central to its absolute brilliance are the Beales themselves, women who may be unconventional, but are certainly not crazy. Here, one finds a mother-daughter relationship more complex, more emotionally alive and resonant than anything Tennessee Williams could have ever imagined. And it falls out effortlessly. A great documentary, unlike wildlife photography, always follows a plot. Normally, an event imposes a plot, or the film is force-fit by its filmakers to arc along a certain trajectory. 'Grey Gardens,' on the other hand, has relatively little action, yet by the time its denouement arrives, the entire narrative has laid itself bare and is as palpable and exciting as any fabrication. Yet it's real. A one-two punch. Only in something so unscripted can you really feel the impact of such moments as Little Edie's misterpretation of Frost's "The Road Not Taken" (which, in fact IS a poem about regret) or Big Edie's line, "When are you gonna learn, Edie? You're in this world, you're not out of the world?" (perfectly ironic).
The film is an opportunity for Big and Little Edie to rehash their lives, to tell their stories, and they relish the chance. The conflict (layers upon layers of it) derives from each attempting to tell her own story as she remembers it, or as she would have liked it to be. Naturally, they contradict each other, and what plays out is a shake-down, a reckoning, the leveling of memory to its composite dust, reality. Anyone who criticizes the film as exploitative of its subjects clearly doesn't observe the mutual affection between the Beales and the Maysles, and doesn't recognize how thrilled the women are to make a record of their lives. The movie may be uncomfortable to watch, but whose untempered emotions *wouldn't* makes us squirm? Outside of society, the Beales aren't reigned in by a need to appear as anything other than what they are. If at times they go over the top in representing themselves, who can blame them? One cannot dismiss how eloquently they often express themselves. Their candor, charm, and wit are always forefront.
I first saw 'Grey Gardens' several years ago, thanks to a roommate who owned a very grainy, very sub-par bootleg. How wonderful that it's finally been given a treatment it deserves. The DVD transfer is excellent, and the extras (particularly the priceless interview snippets between Little Edie and Kathryn Graham) are treasures.
Bottom line, 'Grey Gardens' is an immensely complex portrait of two women and their relationship to one another. Whether they are at each others throats or presenting a uniform front against a society they feel has abused them, the Beales absolutely shine. After seeing it a dozen times at least, I am still digesting it
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