More than once, we bloggers have lamented, or at least pondered, the phenomenon of musicals being made into movies and vice versa. Hairspray has seemed like the weirdest possible example, going as it did from campy film to cheerful stage musical to downright-ecstatic-and-still-campy movie musical. And then there’s the film version of Mamma Mia!, which could be terrible, Meryl Streep notwithstanding. But yesterday, I saw some even crazier movie-to-musical-to-movie casting news.
Here it is: Drew Barrymore has been cast as Edie Bouvier Beale in HBO’s adaptation of the bizarro documentary-turned-musical Grey Gardens.
Jessica Lange will play Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale (the mother of Barrymore’s character).
If you haven’t seen the documentary or the Broadway musical, here’s the usual summation: A mother and daughter — who just happen to be Jackie Kennedy’s aunt and cousin — let their lives and their house go to ruin, invoking the ire of the local authorities and the shame of their famous family. A better way to summarize it is to tell you that Jenny Schecter once professed her deep love for the documentary.
If you’ve seen either the film or the show, you know just how difficult it is to bring these deluded women to life without also making your audience feel insane. That’s the trouble with real people, I guess: They can be difficult to capture, especially when they’re so, well, complicated. Christine Ebersole definitely deserved the Tony — she won Best Actress in a Musical this year. But the stage show (soon to hit London) is not likely to have a life beyond Ebersole’s virtuosic performance, because she is the show — the rest of it was a forgettable mishmash of hungry cats, overly fey pianists and unsympathetic rich folk.
Here’s Ebersole on this year’s broadcast of the Tony Awards, singing the only slightly hummable song from the Grey Gardens musical:
It’s possible I just don’t really like Grey Gardens. I haven’t been able to watch the documentary more than once because of the aforementioned crazy-making quality, and I wish I’d given my girlfriend something other than tickets to the show for her birthday this year. But I can dislike it without disrespecting it, and that means I can be appalled by the notion of Barrymore as Edie. I just don’t think her acting skills are up to the task. She often falls back on cutness or coyness, and that stuff has absolutely no place in overgrown Grey Gardens. Maybe she’ll surprise me. (I’ll be very surprised indeed if she pulls it off.)
Jessica Lange, on ther other hand, is an inspired casting choice. She can definitely play crazy — remember Frances? — or anything else, pretty much.
But Lange’s role is likely to be much smaller than Barrymore’s, so I remain pessimistic. And agitated all over again, just being reminded of the film. Protect me from your crazy world, Jenny Schecter!