Today I was forced to sit through the worst movie I have ever seen. It was a documentary called Grey Gardens. For those who haven’t heard of it, the film won some notoriety back in the ’70s, there was even an HBO special with some A-list actors recreating it in recent years. But for all of the hype about this movie, I wouldn’t force my worst enemy to sit through it.
Here is my take on why we are still talking about the film forty years later: the two stars of the movie happen to be Jackie Kennedy’s aunt and cousin. That’s it. It’s a painfully long, dreadfully annoying account of two self-absorbed women driving each other crazy. Each is obsessed enough with her own story to barely pay attention to what the other is saying. They talk over each other, one sentence barely connecting to the next the entire movie. These two women live in a dilapidated mansion in the Hamptons on family money with a litter of cats complaining about their hard lives like a couple of spoiled, delusional brats. It would be the equivalent of two filmmakers locating the narcissistic, drunken idiot of your family and following them around with a camera for a few months and the cinematic community praising it because this idiot had famous relatives.
Hang on though, I do have a point. Whenever I am forced into a nasty situation, I try to find a lesson in it and suffering through this film gave me one. In the film the daughter goes on endlessly about how she had never done anything with her life. She never worked. She never married. She barely lived anywhere outside of the Hamptons. It was such a terrible life to be born into a wealthy family and spend all of her days sunbathing at the beach. She dreamed of having a life on the stage as a dancer and a singer but never did anything about it. She was a victim that blamed everyone else for why her life had gone the way it had gone. All day everyday they sat around the house and mourned the lives that were no more (for the mother) or never were (for the daughter). They didn’t even go to the store, their groceries were delivered! Who does that?! Who sits around all day whining about how life has not gone their way when they have unlimited resources to change it?
Then it hit me.
These unfortunate (and perhaps really stupid) women were caught on camera doing what we all do. We all have excuses that don’t make much sense for why we don’t do the things we want to do and if we can find someone else to blame, we will. For ten years I’ve been saying I’m moving out of Texas. And for ten years I have found some stupid excuse to have to stay. Put me in front of a camera today and I will go on all day like the Grey Garden’s battleaxes about how much I hate the heat, and the religious rhetoric that says women have a “place” to stay in, and the abundance of idiots with large firearms. If anything, this movie – again, a terrible movie that I absolutely don’t recommend – taught me I don’t want to end up like these women – specifically the daughter. I don’t want to arrive in my middle-age feeling like I had not lived, full of people to blame for my lack of action.
Lately I’ve been looking around this house that my partner and I have spent the better part of four years renovating. We are on the home stretch. It is finally the house we thought we’d spend the next thirty years in. Everything is finally being finished and just the way we want it. It almost became my new excuse to stay. But then I envisioned myself the star of my own Grey Gardens right here in this house. I don’t want to be talking about a house when I could be talking about an adventure. Now whenever I start to feel nostalgic for the lives we have built here in Texas, I remind myself of that terrible movie Grey Gardens and remember that to stay is to become like those women. To make excuses out of fear and place blame on others for our own inaction is only human. But it is foolish, and should no more be a part of our lives than this movie.