Film & Television

Netflix Review: “Grace and Frankie”—Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin Make a Delightful Odd Couple

Meanwhile, the love between the two men, for me at least, just doesn’t seem believable. Fonda and Tomlin are paired with Martin Sheen as the more conservative Robert and Sam Waterston as the sentimental mensch Sol. These actors are pros with long, storied careers and multiple awards between them. Yet both seem to struggle to find their characters. Sheen is stiff and awkward, while Waterston, when he isn’t in tears (too much of the time) acts like a buffoon. I found it difficult to care when they professed—again and again—“We can be happy at last.”

“Yeah,” I can’t help but think, “but look what you’ve done to your wives.” As their children point out, if the husbands had been having affairs with other women for 20 years and chose to walk away, no one would be congratulating them on their newfound freedom and fulfillment. Because they’re gay, and because we’re all liberal, modern people, we’re supposed to understand and sympathize.

“We’re going to get married—because we can now,” they tell their soon to be ex–wives.

“Yeah, I know,” snaps Frankie, “I hosted that fundraiser.”

In addition to the four leads, the series boasts a strong cast of supporting actors. Grace’s two daughters are played by June Diane Raphael (who, with her fresh sarcasm, fast became my favorite character) and Brooklyn Decker. Frankie’s adopted sons are Ethan Embry and Baron Vaughn. One of the strengths of the series is its writing and attention to detail—both of which can be seen in the children’s names. Stylish couple Grace and Robert named their daughters Brianna and Mallory, while hippies Frankie and Sol chose Coyote and Nwabudike.

Happily, Grace and Frankie, both of whom are supposed to be about 70, don’t fall into too much stereotypical old-lady behavior. There are a few references to technophobia, arthritis, hearing loss, and even vaginal dryness (not to worry on that front: Frankie makes an effective—and tasty—personal lubricant from yams). But these issues aren’t played broadly for laughs. The women acknowledge their age, certainly, but they also live vibrant lives. They drink (often and a lot); Grace joins an online dating service while Frankie flirts with her organic produce supplier. Grace considers going back to the beauty products firm she built. Frankie teaches art to ex-convicts. (“It’s called rehabilitation. They’ve paid their debt to society!” she scolds a scoffing Grace.)

Although Frankie truly loved and misses her husband, Grace comes to the realization that her marriage was fairly loveless even before the big announcement. Regardless, both women fear becoming irrelevant and invisible. In one silly but funny scene, they decide they need to smoke and go out for cigarettes. The clerk ignores them and helps a younger (and bustier) woman. Grace goes ballistic and Frankie finally pulls her out—only to reveal that she’s shoplifted the cigarettes they wanted. “We have a super power,” she tells Grace. “If they can’t see us, they can’t stop us.”

All of the scenes between Fonda and Tomlin are terrific, and the writing is crisp and contemporary, funny often, and bittersweet where and when it should be. Whether it’s because of the acting or the writing (or both), the scenes between the husbands aren’t as satisfying, but they aren’t the main event here anyway. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if Grace and Frankie soon decide they’re better off alone … together.

The binge-worthy first season of Grace and Frankie is available now on Netflix.

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  • Judith A. Ross May 12, 2015 at 6:27 pm

    My husband and I are both in the midst of watching this one. I agree with your assessment and about the lack of authenticity in the two main male roles. And I feel a bit better about all the eye-rolling I’ve been doing when the two of them have scenes together. Their relationship just doesn’t ring true! That said, there is a lot of depth in depicting the loss on both sides of the couples and Fonda and Tomlin’s roles share a lot of truth about what it is like to be an older woman — especially, I suspect, one who finds herself without a man.

    Reply
  • Toni Myers May 12, 2015 at 11:22 am

    Thanks. I can’t wait!

    Reply
  • Kelly May 12, 2015 at 9:08 am

    I’m almost done watching the first season and it’s wonderful! I’ve always loved Jane Fonda in all her movies but I think she’s the most excellent when doing comedy. She and Lily Tomlin are excellent together. And it is so refreshing to see the life events of people over the age of 40 on TV! Although it is a little disconcerting to see President Bartlett call Jack McCoy “sweetheart”, I think the guys are also doing a fantastic job.

    Reply
  • Holly May 12, 2015 at 8:28 am

    Started the binging this weekend and I am in love with these women. They play perfectly together and I laughed and sighed as they make their way through a stunning life-changing event. Also can’t stop loving that beach house……

    Reply