Grey Gardens (1975)

Genres - Culture & Society  |   Sub-Genres - Biography, Interpersonal Relationships, Social Issues  |   Release Date - Sep 27, 1975 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 94 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - PG
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Review by Tom Wiener

Although Salesman (their breakthrough film) and Gimme Shelter (their most accessible film) are better known in the canon of Maysles brothers' movies, arguably their most moving film is this portrait of two aging women stuck in time and locked in a mother-daughter relationship for the ages. Edith Beale and Edie Beale are related to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, which presumably brought them to the attention of the Maysles when the women were almost evicted from their rundown mansion on Long Island. But the Kennedy connection is really only incidental; this could be any mother and daughter whose past lives of wealth and privilege are all they have to go on in their respective old and middle age. The third character here is their house, slowly succumbing to age and neglect, but, especially for Big Edie, the supreme symbol of her once glorious past. The film is both heartbreaking and unexpectedly funny. Little Edie (as the filmmakers call her) loves confiding to the camera, and her sense of fashion (which runs to interesting head wraps and inverted skirts) and her way with words make her an endlessly entertaining subject, even as you sense the desperation beneath her dancing and singing routines and her whispered monologues. The film's most common image -- of Little Edie confiding to the Maysles that she has to get out of Grey Gardens while her mother calls her from another room to come and help her -- goes beyond even the specificity of wealth gone to ruin. What middle-aged offspring of an aging and needy parent hasn't experienced the same tug of emotions?