Grey Gardens Movie Poster Image

Grey Gardens



Drew Barrymore/HBO biopic with adult themes, alcoholism.
  • Rated: NR
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Release Year: 2009
  • Running Time: 104 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Families can hurt each other in many ways. Yet, though this movie mines this theme, the bond between Little Edie and Big Edie is palpable. Blood truly is thicker than water, for good or bad.

Positive role models

It’s important to note that film documents a different time, when fathers talk about needing to marry off their daughters so they don’t have to support them anymore, so there’s some of that here. Little Edie’s parents are distant with each other, and they’re sometimes cruel to her.


No physical fights, but a couple does argue, and the hostility pierces.


A married woman carries on with a much younger man, though they’re not shown trysting. There appears to be a chilly understanding between her and her husband. A young woman also has an affair with a married man, a liaison others frown upon; later, he heartlessly breaks up with her. The same person also has other relationships that don’t appear to be good for her. Some kissing, and a couple is shown dressed but in bed.

Not applicable

Some name-dropping of the Bouviers and the Maidstone Club, but nothing that stands out. One character appears unaware of her spending.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Main character is an alcoholic. Lots of social drinking and smoking.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this drama follows the sad tale of a co-dependent mother and daughter living in squalor in 1970s Hamptons, and the decades leading up to it. Though there’s no violence or nudity, it’s sometimes painful to watch, especially knowing it’s based on real people. Though it’s rated PG, its tragic themes may not appeal to tween audiences and younger.

Kids say

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What's the story?

Documentary film buffs sing praises of Albert and David Maysles’ 1975 masterpiece about two of the most fascinating and eccentric creatures to grace the Hamptons. This HBO feature reimagines it with Drew Barrymore as Little Edie and Jessica Lange as her mother, Big Edie, and shows them decades before and soon after the Maysles discovered them in their decaying mansion. Little Edie longs to stay in New York and be an actress, but her mother’s pull is far too strong, and so she returns to the East End to make real the fate that awaits her.

Is it any good?


It is tough to top the intrigue and charisma of the real-life Edies, but Barrymore and Lange give it their best shot. Lange is especially appealing when she croons, as Big Edie was wont to do at parties before she turned recluse. The contrast before and after is heartbreakingly stark. Barrymore captures Little Edie’s peculiarities, especially in the later years, and exhibits pathos we rarely see from her. But her accent: off-base. The two of them together, however, are a force.

More pluses: The costumes are gorgeous without appearing too costume-y -- the dresses are especially yummy -- and, notwithstanding the Beales’ decaying mansion later in the film, the Hamptons have never looked more beautiful. Scenes that mimic the Maysles’ footage are amazing near-facsimiles. But, and this is a considerable but: What made the Maysles’ film so powerful is the way it peeled off Big and Little Edie’s layers so that as each stratum fell, our sense of wonder and horror crescendoed to a deafening awe. Here, anger that fossilized into despair and near-madness -- the house they lived in was cat- and raccoon-filled and decrepit -- is reduced to folly.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about this film and the idea that it was based on a real-life documentary: Why would the Beales agree to participate? Why did they make good subjects?

  • Discuss the mother-daughter relationship. Why the push-pull? Did they love or loathe each other in the end, or both?

Movie details

DVD/Streaming release date:July 14, 2009
Cast:Drew Barrymore, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Jessica Lange
Director:Michael Sucsy
Run time:104 minutes
MPAA rating:NR

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Educator and Parent Written byFosterFan September 30, 2011

HBO means great cinema.

Had Grey Gardens been released theatrically, it would have garnered Oscar nominations for both its stars. Drew Barrymore is at the top of her game as" Little" Edie, and Jessica Lange is phenomenal as her mother, "Big" Edie. A little sex, not very foul language, but lots of drinking and smoking. Kids may need a little historical context before, or after watching it.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking