After watching Grey Gardens, it's safe to rank Hollywood as the runner up for the place where dreams go to die. The real champion of this title is the estate of Edith Bouvier-Beale and her daughter Edie Bouvier-Beale, strategically sequestered in the Hamptons, in the only area isolated enough to contain the psychological fumes emanating from what is known as Grey Gardens. Now, just to avoid confusion, this film is not to be mistaken with the more recent butchering starring Drew Barrymore as Little Edie and Jessica Lange as Big Edie. The original documentary, which, for some reason, just had to be turned into a narrative version with the abovementioned street cred seeking actresses, is a stark tale of the two women who are best known as Jackie Kennedy's kooky, uncleanly aunt and cousin.
Little Edie (an epithet that is hardly fitting considering she is fifty-seven in the film) credits herself as the sole caretaker of her elderly mother, Big Edie, a woman whose real pleasure in life is singing. Little Edie's passion, on the other hand, is dancing, though of course, to Big Edie's dismay, she likes to pepper her act with a bit of garbled singing as well. These dreams of entertainment success are kept alive at Grey Gardens, where Big and Little Edie feed off one another's neuroses, neither one willing to accept that their aspirations are almost as unattainable as a date with Rock Hudson during his prime.
One of the few outsiders the Bouvier-Beales coverse with is their handyman, Jerry, who pops in frequently to fix things that are probably irreparable considering the unfathomable squalor of the estate (grossly illustrated by a scene in which Little Edie joyfully feeds the raccoons that run freely in and out of the house).
Other than that, the interactions of the Bouvier-Beales are few and far between, restricted to two unnamed guests who appear for a celebration of Big Edie's birthday. This particular scene of the film is another solemn depiction of how detached from real life the mother and daughter pair has become. Filling their days with essentially nothing, Big Edie generally sits in her bed looking at the scant memorabilia from her failed singing career while Little Edie tans out on the deck (an exercise that never seems to change the pigments of her skin).
Grey Gardens, though at times difficult to watch because of its bleakness, is one of those rare documentaries in which the filmmakers do not blatantly try to thread together some kind of motif or grand statement about life through the actions of their subject. Directors Ellen Hovde and Albert Maysles simply let the Bouvier-Beales exist, a decision that allows an incisive glance at the ennui of both wealth and aging, the latter category a considerable part of why the Edies have been forgotten by the outside world.