As a relationship therapist I am often saddened by the complexity of maintaining a clandestine relationship within a primary relationship, and the trauma that is caused to all involved when it becomes public knowledge. So the other day while scratching around for something to watch on TV, I was delighted to happen upon the Netflix series Grace and Frankie, which explores this issue.
Grace and Frankie are two married women of 70ish – they do not like each other and they have always been rivals. They have both been married for 40 plus years to their respective partners, Sol and Robert who are divorce lawyers. The opening shows the two couples having dinner, during the course of which Sol and Robert come out to Frankie and Grace about their longstanding homosexual relationship and their plan to go public, move in together and marry.
Naturally, this is something of a bombshell and the series goes on to explore how life moves forward for the four main characters and their families. Grace, played by Jane Fonda, is funny, smart, sassy and sexy. She cannot understand why her husband would leave her, as she is the “full package”. The wonderful Lily Tomlin plays the very bohemian Frankie with an elegance and lightness of touch that rightly earned her a Primetime Emmy Award.
These two are thrown together by their plight and by the fact that they both take refuge in their jointly owned beach house. They could not be more different in their reaction to the unfolding events.
While their soon to be ex-husbands come out to all their friends, plan the divorces and their elaborate nuptials, Grace maintains a controlled, cool and elegant stance which is rather repressed. Whereas Frankie lets it “all hang out”. She takes to chanting, smoking dope, crying and making many pots of “vaginal lube” for the over 70’s. This she tries to press on Grace when she starts internet dating, giving her graphic instructions on the whereabouts of her clitoris and use of said lube that had me weeping with laughter!
The programme demonstrates beautifully the complexity of hidden sexuality and pain of leading a double life, as well as the inadvertent distress and trauma caused to others in this process. Grace’s husband Robert deals with this in a bullish manner, whereas Sol finds himself conflicted by his love and concern for Frankie and his delight at being free to be with Robert openly. The series also triumphs the deep relationship that Grace and Frankie develop out of this adversity, as they battle through the events that unfold and learn the richness of valuing and respecting their differences.
It is a wonderful study of the complexity of human relationships.
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