A thankful film for November: Gray Gardens (1975)

Photo courtesy of Google Images.

By Brant Lewis

Contributing Writer

It’s November, and that means it’s Thanksgiving season.  Yes, that wonderful holiday where relatives bombard you with 1,000 questions about your life, watching the ball game with the family, and stuffing your face with freshly carved turkey and buttered up rolls.  

Besides the food and stressful traveling of millions of other people, Thanksgiving is about family.  Family that can drive you crazy, embarrass you, but still love you. After all, normality is overrated in families anyway. No other film does a better job of exploring the weird structure that is the family unit better than Grey Gardens.

Grey Gardens, released in 1975, is a documentary that focuses on “Big Edie” and “Little Edie” Beale, a mother and daughter who live in East Hampton, New York. Rather than living in the traditional house, they reside in the decaying mansion named Grey Gardens as destitutes.  

Both Big Edie and Little Edie do not let their current situations reflect how they view themselves. They still believe and act like they live in great splendor while reminiscing on their past. Oddly enough, Big Edie and Little Edie are related to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, the former First Lady. Big Edie’s divorced husband, Phelan Beale, graduated from Sewanee in the early 1900s.  

With their unique style of dress, a somewhat furnished house, and plenty of raccoons, it’s hard not to see there is love between the mom and daughter. Big Edie and Little Edie rely upon themselves since there is no one else they can rely upon. All that they have is a decrepit mansion and a love for each other.  

There is a reason why Grey Gardens became a classic documentary. Because of its structure as a documentary, there is hardly anything hidden from the camera. My favorite parts of this film are the offbeat moments such as Little Edie’s minute-long American flag dance, Big Edie recounting her family history, Little Edie’s penchant for scarves covering her head, and Big Edie singing along to a cracked record.

The Beales are truly larger than life. The film is plentiful with truly bizarre elements, and an earnest human quality that can only be found in the real world. Their story could only be told on film to do it justice. After watching it, be thankful for the family you have and give them a hug while having seconds of pumpkin pie.