Grey Gardens Movie Poster Image

Grey Gardens

Tragicomic docu of aging eccentrics won't appeal to kids.
  • Rated: PG
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Release Year: 1976
  • Running Time: 100 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The film gently wrestles with how society perceives mental illness, eccentricity, and aging. The codependency between the two women is clearly problematic in some ways, but it's handled carefully and with tact.

Positive role models

There is an undeniable tragic charm to these two women long past their primes, but still dwelling in glamorous (and often acrimonious) interpretations of their beautiful former lives.

Not applicable

"Little Edie" believes that a much-younger gardener is interested in having sex with her, which leads to an argument with her mother. During a later argument, one of "Big Edie's" breasts briefly hangs out as she bends over to pick something up.


"Damn," "Goddamn," "hell."

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

In their room, Big and Little Edie drink from a bottle of rum. During Big Edie's birthday party, attendees drink wine and beer.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Grey Gardens, the 1970s documentary about a codependent mother and daughter who related to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, is a tragicomic portrait of two women who have seen better days. As such, the behavior and living conditions of these two might be a bit much for younger, less mature viewers. "Big Edie" and "Little Edie" are often seen in their shared bedroom drinking rum and Coke while arguing about the events that led to their shared destiny of living together for decades in the crumbling mansion named Grey Gardens. Their behavior is erratic and eccentric at best, but what emerges is a provocative portrait of two fiercely independent women who lived through a time and high society where the options for women who wanted to shape their own destinies were limited, and must live with those consequences. 

Kids say

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What's the story?

In 1972, tabloids were beginning to report on the living conditions of an aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis -- Edith "Big Edie" Bouvier Beale and Edith "Little Edie" Bouvier Beale. The Easthampton, New York mansion where the two had lived for decades -- GREY GARDENS -- lacked running water, was infested with fleas, and was also home to dozens of raccoons and cats. Faced with eviction and condemnation of Grey Gardens, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis arrived in the nick of time, paying for all necessary repairs to keep Big and Little Edie from being evicted by the authorities. At the same time, Albert and David Maysles, documentarians best known for the films Salesman and Gimme Shelter, became interested in their stories while trying to shoot a documentary about other, better known members of their family. The result is Grey Gardens, the story of the aftermath of a long fall from high society's graces, a codependent and reclusive mother and daughter living as much in the past as the present, and the lines between eccentricity and mental illness against a backdrop of glamor, wealth, and prestige that had so defined the JFK/Camelot recent past.

Is it any good?


This is a brilliant, tragicomic documentary. Early in GREY GARDENS, "Little Edie" Bouvier Beale tells the camera, "It's very difficult to keep the line between the past and the present." Much of the rest of the movie takes this quote and runs with it. After living together in near-seclusion for over 20 years (the reasons why they live together and continue to live together are never specified, but it becomes obvious they have nowhere else to go, in spite of Little Edie's yearning to leave), this mother and daughter are often seen in their shared bedroom rehashing past events, opening up old resentments, disagreeing about central facts to their stories, as cats and raccoons have free rein in the rest of their crumbling mansion.

And yet, in spite of the specific circumstances, Grey Gardens raises provocative and universal questions about mental illness, how eccentricity is perceived by society, and aging. In less gifted hands, the obvious problems of Big and Little Edie would have been exploited and abused for cheap laughter, but with the Maysles Brothers, what emerges is a three-dimensional portrait of two women forced by their own peculiar circumstances to create a reality that is as much pictures in scrapbooks as it is a rundown mansion.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how "Big Edie" and "Little Edie's" personality and temperaments are shown on film. What do you notice about the relationship between the filmmakers and the film's subjects, how they interact, and how that effects the way Big and Little Edie reveal themselves and their relationship?

  • How are Big and Little Edie's backstories conveyed?

  • Contrast Grey Gardens with reality television shows where people living in somewhat similar conditions of squalor are conveyed with far less empathy. How does Grey Gardens manage to present a more compassionate documentation of these two, as opposed to reality television's tendencies to be far more manipulative and exploitative?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:May 13, 1976
DVD/Streaming release date:August 14, 2001
Cast:Brooks Hyers, Edith Bouvier Beale
Directors:Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Ellen Hovde, Muffie Meyer
Studio:Criterion Collection
Topics:Misfits and underdogs
Run time:100 minutes
MPAA rating:PG

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Adult Written byGayzelle December 28, 2012

Grey Gardens and the Changing Landscape of Women's Roles in Society

This classic film is a great way to approach many subjects related to women in society. Begin by introducing the subject of Jacqueline Kennedy's influence on society as First Lady during Camelot through the film's protagonist Edie Bouvier Beale who was Jackie's older cousin. Discuss how she was essentially left behind in life as we see the consequences of her choices play out in the film. Discuss how she was expected and basically destined to trot a path much like Jackie's as the wife of a great successful American man and what led to her taking the path she did to end up the spinster reliving her glory days as a onetime Broadway hopeful during her Barbizon days as Body Beautiful Beale? . What choices did women have for their life path during the era of Edie's youth in the 1930s? How did that change for Jackie's generation and how is it even different for today's girls? How would Little Edie's life have possibly been different if she was growing up today? Discuss Big Edie's trajectory and her life choices that caused her to become a banished black sheep living out her days in squalor at Grey Gardens? She wanted to be a singer which was unheard of for wealthy women of her ilk in the 1930s. Discuss the cycle of poverty that began with Big Edie's choice to ignore what society, including her husband and father expected her to do in order to remain in good financial standing. Cut off from basic necessities, she was the martyr for artists waging war against the bureaucrats, as she described herself and Edie. How did the ladies suffer for being who they wanted to be? Was it worth it? Why or why not? How can they be used as positive role models for individuals stepping out of convention to follow their own drum? Should Would Little Edie have been better off if she had married well like Jackie? Would Big Edie have fared better if she had been less flamboyant to appease her father and husband? What do you think about the way women's identities were as extensions of their husbands? How has modern society changed regarding women's roles in the era since Edie's youth in 1930s,-- Jackie's heyday in 1960s, through the production of the film in early 1970s? Discuss.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models