Emergency Alert: See The Real Grey Gardens Before You See HBO’s Grey Gardens

So, this weekend I saw HBO’s dramatized portrayal of the lives of Big Edie and Little Edie Beale, Grey Gardens, and I have very important message for anyone who might be planning to watch it when or after it premieres Saturday night:

Under no circumstances are you to watch this movie without seeing the documentary that inspired it, also called Grey Gardens, first.

If you have Netflix, send back whatever you have now and add Grey Gardens to the top of your queue. Or, even better, temporarily add another movie to your plan just so you can get this one in time to watch it. Or go to a video store if they have one in your town still. Or find a friend who owns it. Or tape the movie Saturday night and wait to watch it until you’ve seen the doc. Whatever you have to do, it’s your life, but just do NOT watch the Drew Barrymore/Jessica Lange version until you’ve seen the real movie. (I thought pretty much everyone had already seen the documentary, but it seems I’ve managed to wedge myself in the one hilariously miniscule corner of the social universe where it’s even possible to think that, because most people have actually never even heard of it even though it’s the BEST MOVIE.)

Okay, now, some thoughts on the HBO movie, no spoilers:

Oh my god this movie was so fucking sad. I mean literally sad, like “You will feel sad in your heart.” That’s not unexpected, considering the heartbreaking source material, but while this movie never fully explores the real reasons the Beales ended up trapped in a nightmare of mutual need, guilt, co-dependence, and despair (the movie seems to put too much of the blame on men and money, and less on the gigantic all-consuming black hole of selfishness that was Big Edie), I could only hold the tears back by constantly reminding myself that the Beale’s condition, while romantically tragic, wasn’t really that bad. Instead of being actresses, they had too many cats. It’s not the fucking Color Purple, here. Get it together, me.

…But it’s also really fun! Grey Gardens is a cult classic and a camp classic, and the filmmakers were wise enough to make the movie campy and full of fashion and lots of little movie inside jokes. The movie never really balances the fun and the sad, though, and that’s the main reason I don’t think audiences who haven’t seen the documentary will get it. Jessica Lange is wonderful as Old Big Edie, and kind of just Jessica-Lange-y while playing her younger incarnation, while Drew Barrymore is great at both — it’s obvious that she’s watched the movie at least 700 times (the flag dance scene alone!) — but the last word of any sentence spoken by Drew Barrymore always sounds exactly like Drew Barrymore, so the impression, while a major feat, isn’t totally perfect, but it doesn’t really need to be.

Basically, this movie isn’t and doesn’t try to be a substitute for the original, and it doesn’t really answer any big questions, but boy is it a treat. As one long fun sad series of inside jokes for the superfans, it’s a total success. (Oh, and be sure to watch until the very end of the credits — something adorable happens!)

Can they do this with Grizzly Man next?