Thursday, April 28, 2011

SFIFF: A More Conventional And Contemporary Grey Gardens In "The Good Life"

This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

One of my all-time favorite movies is the documentary "Grey Gardens." If you've never heard of that movie, I am not about to try and explain its brilliance to you. Just go out and rent it. Or better yet, buy it, because it is a film you will want to watch more than once.

The Danish documentary "The Good Life" is described as having "parallels" to the Maysles' classic, and that was enough to get me to watch. It's a portrait of Mette Beckman, a widowed mother, and her middle-aged daughter, Anne, who live together in a small apartment in a coastal tourist town in Portugal. Once upon a time, they were a rich Danish family, living the proverbial good life, with homes all over Europe. But political uprisings in Portugal led to the loss of all their money, and they now must survive on mother Mette's small monthly pension. This is something daughter Anne is unable to come to terms with, as she feels she is entitled to a much better life, and was not raised to actually do something as boring as work for a living.

While there are indeed some parallels to the Beales of "Grey Gardens," the Beckmans of "The Good Life" are considerably more...conventional, (some might say, more sane), and as such they aren't nearly as entertaining on their own as the Edies are. Still, it is interesting to see a contemporary tale similar to that of Beales play out, and I am sure it's a story that is happening with alarming frequency in this day and age.

There's a scene in the movie where we see Anne dancing by herself in a disco, a woman clearly in a world of her own, and it immediately reminded me of the dancing scene in "Grey Gardens." If only the two of them could have met and shared their terrific dances with each other, and a camera crew. That would be a document for the ages.

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