Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Recasting 2008: "Grey Gardens"

I made a small error at the beginning of my last recasting post. I had indicated that I bumped up Frozen River a year because there were two projects I wanted to use from 2008. In reality, it was 2009 that had two projects I wanted to use, and I couldn't keep both of them AND Frozen River unless I bumped Frozen River a year, and then moved the earlier of the 2009 projects to 2008.  

Grey Gardens could easily have been released on HBO in late 2008 anyway, as its filming began way back in the fall of 2007. I can remember the first time I watched the original documentary from the 70s. I was in college, and I'm pretty sure that our dorm front desk had it available to borrow (VHS of course), so I watched it in my room one night. And I quickly found the Beale women as tragically fascinating as I'm sure they were to the original filmmakers. 

Meryl of course would play Edith "Big Edie" Bouvier Beale, a New York socialite and aunt to former first lady Jackie Kennedy. Jessica Lange portrayed Big Edie in the original HBO production. The film follows Edie and her daughter, "Little Edie" from roughly the 1940s to the 1970s. Big Edie and her family have been part of New York high society for some time, but after her husband leaves her, and Little Edie does not marry, the two become recluses at their East Hampton estate, Grey Gardens. 

The mother-daughter pair basically become the epitome of old cat ladies. They have neither money nor the inclination to perform the necessary upkeep of the house, and it becomes a complete sty. But for whatever reason, it doesn't seem to bother them. They're eccentric to no end, and seem to exist in a fantasy world that they may have created in their heads as a means of escape or as protection from a life of loss and unfulfilled dreams. 

I included the whole trailer for reference because it shows the physical transformation the two go through over the decades, particularly Big Edie. It's difficult to separate the experiences of these two women once they've bound themselves to Grey Gardens, but they'd both be fascinating characters to portray. Big Edie goes from being a well-connected socialite with a modest singing career, to a dejected, penniless divorcee in a crumbling mansion. And the wildest part is that she seemed to prefer it that way. At least when it came to Grey Gardens. She was so determined to never give up that place, that instead of selling it and being able to easily live off the income, she insisted, against the wishes of her two sons, to remain there with Little Edie--until the County Health Board threatened to evict them due to the home being deemed unfit for healthy living. Jackie O had to step in to pay for clean up, refurbishing, and back taxes. 

I'd love to have seen Meryl work out the psychology of this woman. Lange does a incredible job in her own right, portraying someone, who, for half of the film is decidedly not a looker. This is a departure for Lange. And while many of her films and characters explore what she has described as "madness," Grey Gardens depicts a woman whom I suspect is a bit more tricky to figure out. 

The film received overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics upon its release. It won both the Golden Globe and Emmy for miniseries or television movie. Barrymore won the Globe and SAG for Lead Actress. Lange was also nominated for both (also in  lead) and ended up winning the Emmy in this category. 

I think it's around this time, about ten years ago, that television started to show itself as not only a venue for great roles, but perhaps a superior option for great roles for women over forty. The stigma of a "TV movie" began to fade for top actresses. I realize that Meryl had a wonderful turn in Angels in America in 2003, but that was a bit of an anomaly at the time. Arguably, television has now, especially over the past year when most folks have been forced to quarantine themselves to varying degrees, shaped itself as the premiere screen medium for showcasing the most intimate of human experiences. 


  1. Jeff you've done it again, this was my 2009 choice! Great movie and very well told.

    2009 is a year I consider to be one of the weaker of the past 20 years for great female roles so I'm looking forward to your second pick from that year!

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  2. I kind of wish someday she could play a painter like Georgia O'keeffe.

    1. I totally considered Joan Allen's portrayal in the Lifetime movie in 2009 (originally planned for HBO)! But the story follows O'Keeffe roughly from her 30s to her 50s (I think).
      Jeremy Irons played her husband and was supposed to be 23 years older. Meryl would've been around 60 at the time of production. Probably wouldn't have worked. But love the character!

  3. The only other decent role for an older actress in 2009 is the Sigourney Weaver role in Prayers For Bobby.

    1. I feel like I'm cheating a little bit on my 2009 choice in relation to my 2014 Reimagined Filmography. You'll see what I mean when I explain in my post. But it fits better in my goofy mind. Ha.

  4. Ah I did wonder, I think I know what you mean...

  5. Love it. Stumped for 2009. Meryl already had the pick!