Drew Barrymore, we hardly knew you

We love Drew Barrymore in romantic comedies like Music and Lyrics and 50 First Dates. But Barrymore’s performance in HBO’s extended riff on the Maysles brothers’ 1975 documentary Grey Gardens (premiering April 18) showed us just how much this actor had in reserve.

Anyone who has watched the Maysles brothers’ film will remember Big and Little Edie Beale. Fallen members of the East Coast aristocracy, they lived in squalor on a run-down Long Island estate. But Barrymore’s transformation into Little Edie — she gets the smallest details, right down to Edie’s hand gestures, just right — adds new dimensions to the Maysleses’ carefully drawn portrait. Unlike the documentary, HBO’s film takes four decades to unfold: We see how and why the Beales spiraled out of society (the number of ever-accumulating cats they take in is one measure), and Barrymore’s poignant, perfectly turned performance makes their slow decline look strangely beautiful.

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