18 April 2009

Review: Grey Gardens (2009)

I've just finished watching the HBO Special Grey Gardens and, while neither all good nor all bad can be said about it, what can be said is that the legacy of the Beale women and their story will not be soon extinguished from this earth nor from this culture. The ending notes of the HBO film, the last spoken lines of dialogue prior to the credits, is a sort of indirect encouragement toward the viewers at home to go and see the documentary, even if they already hadn't, to configure with its over thirty-year-old story the pieces of the lives of its two women further elucidated in the '30s' interpretations of this new adaptation, exploration, and film.
It is clear enough to me, from touches like that one and others both delicately and emphatically put throughout the film, that director Michael Sucsy has at least a beginner's appreciation and tenderness for the lives of his subjects and had at least the intentions to make a thing of sincerity in their honor. Yet, while there are scenes and pieces of his portrayal that eerily resurrect the damage of Grey Gardens the estate and the somberness of its inhabitants, the majority of the film plods along to heavily, too awkwardly to do actual, sincere honor to the women and definitely not to the documentary, which in breathless grace flutters upon the lives of the Edies Beale like a prismic butterfly, alighting on a stage. References to lines spoken throughout the documentary are too rigid and explicit to reach anywhere near that level of delicacy, and the direction and pointy cinematography do nothing to ladle out the thick stew that was the world of Grey Gardens during the Maysles' inhabitance. Of course, one has to remember that HBO will not be making a film that would not in its charms and neatened balances taste unpalatable to the mass audiences, and so certain insertions for the sake of drama and embellishment are to be expected, regardless of the origins of the matter. However, nevertheless, indelicacy that creeps in, even in otherwise slovenly locations, is indelicacy still and exists as naught else than a cotton-candy distractor from the heart of the matter at hand. The fact that the film ends with the struggling anti-heroine, Little Edie, receiving her long-awaited and much-aspired-for dream of the stage and the limelight feels inchoate in comparison with docile constancy of her situation and off-center with regard to the focal point of her life's story. This critique is not to say that the film is any way disrespectful; quite the opposite rathe, the film takes its reverence too highly and wishes for its characters too great a recalibration for the eccentricity of their selves. That the costumes and the art direction in their own rights were unbeautiful, it is too impossible to say; that they were overblown perhaps is another matter. Ms. Barrymore, it seems, may yet know what I mean.

Grade: C+.

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