and Liza Hamm
April 20, 2009 12:00 PM

HBO, April 18, 8 p.m. ET/PT |


If she’d lived longer, “Little Edie” Beale could have been a reality celebrity, teamed with Corky Ballas on Dancing with the Stars. Instead, she and her bedridden mother, Big Edie, are forever trapped in the grimy amber of the famous 1975 documentary Grey Gardens. The Beales, society ladies who counted Jackie Onassis as a relative, lived in dilapidated squalor in what had once been a fine Hamptons house. They weren’t deluded about the filthiness of their latter days, when the rooms were crammed with trash and cats, but both were addled (and sustained) by fantasies of show business. The documentary, a voyeuristic classic, is crushingly bleak. This more conventional biographical movie, which includes flashbacks to days of parties and prettiness, is much sweeter—we know these are just actresses and, better yet, ones who are superb. As Little Edie, Drew Barrymore is a guileless, frustrated doll of a woman: a pitiable Baby Jane. And Jessica Lange’s transformation into old Edie is startlingly close to the original. The real Beales would have been thrilled with this extension of their strange, modern-gothic fame.

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