I was late to the table watching the Netflix series Grace and Frankie starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, in the respective title roles. I binged watched seasons 1-3 this fall and just fell in love with the show and it’s various set pieces. As some of you may know, I have a long history of doing posts on movie and television set decoration grouped under the heading Silver Screen Surroundings which was inspired by the movie set of Something’s Gotta Give, directed by Nancy Myers (the queen of the beautiful movie set) and decorated by Beth Rubino, whom we interviewed on The Skirted Roundtable.
A Certain Age
Briefly, Grace and Frankie is the story of two women “of a certain age” who have been married for 40-odd years to Robert Hanson and Sol Bergstein, played by Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston, who it turns out are more than just law partners and have been romantically involved for twenty years. The series begins with Robert and Sol coming out to their wives (in public at a restaurant…) and basically blithely telling them they are leaving the ladies for each other. Talk about being blindsided by a Mack truck! The women can barely tolerate one another and appear to be polar opposites with Grace (Jane Fonda) being an uptight, rigid perfectly coiffed retired beauty entrepreneur and Frankie (Lily Tomlin), a bohemian hippie artist and art teacher with wild hair, excitable emotions and personality. The two couples each have two grown children who have all basically grown up together and the families share a beach house.
Beach house did I say? And it’s a pretty great one too which has spawned many blog posts before I ever heard of the show! I will get into the details of the beach house (I will include links to some of my favorite posts and articles on the subject in my next post) but when I started reviewing the show and re-watching the pilot episode, something interesting revealed itself to me. Most viewers understand that the sets and costumes in a movie or television series are important – the sets create an environment and the costumes “fit” the character. But, they can and often are used to advance the story line, to visually lay the groundwork, to make connections between events and the characters themselves. They are often the subtle non-verbal characters in a story. When I started re-watching the fist episode in order to get some screen grabs I noticed something about their clothing and houses which I’d missed in the first go-around. Of course, hindsight is 20/20 – I know where the Grace and Frankie story goes. But, what were the sets and costumes telling us right from the beginning? Is this modern day Odd Couple as incompatible as they initially seem? Walk with me…
When we first meet Grace and Frankie, they meet at the restaurant waiting for their husbands to arrive. Their initial greeting is – tolerant, I guess might be the word. Eye-rolling tolerant complete with air-kissing. They veer back and forth between sarcasm, annoyance and actual conversation that can happen between two people who have known each other for a very long time, even if they aren’t besties. They both are thinking that the reason for this mystery dinner is that the husbands have decided to retire.
Let’s take a look at their costumes. It’s hard to tell if Grace (Jane) is wearing black or dark blue – it looks different in different lights. Frankie (Lily) is wearing a combination of black and teal blue, with exuberant purple and teal agate jewelry. The boldness of the jewelry and her hairstyle and the flowing nature of her dress is very much on point for an artist. Grace’s form fitting dress, elegant pearls and perfect hair is on point for someone who made her name in beauty products and whose “image” is everything to her personally and to how she believes she needs to be perceived by the world. So, on the surface, their costumes are merely illustrating their characters. But are they saying more?
After the disastrous dinner, the couples returns to their respective homes. We next see Grace in her perfectly lovely dressing room, removing her artificial surfaces – false eyelashes and hair pieces. But, note the color palette of this room – a beautiful soft lavender with sparkly mirrored cabinet. Now, look again at Frankie’s jewelry above. It’s a very similar mix. Now note the color of Grace’s dressing gown – a neutral sandy beige.
The next morning, Robert enters her bedroom – again a beautiful space awash in pinks, lavenders and sparkling surfaces. It’s clear, they don’t sleep in the same bedroom.
Over at Sol and Frankies, their shared bedroom is dark and filled with pattern and texture. It speaks to intensity and emotion, the pattern on draperies add to the anxiety of the scene. It’s also dated looking – a space that started in the ’70’s and evolved over time, but was never actually redecorated or changed over the years of their marriage.
Back at Grace and Roberts, Grace “visits” his bedroom which is pointedly shown to be on the first floor, unlike her second floor bedroom. Clearly, they have been separate for a long time. The bedroom, which was probably once a home office, is well-appointed and masculine in a black, gray and orange color palette. Grace walks around the room and it’s clear that she hadn’t been in there in a very long time. She might have learned a lot about her husband had she ventured in there. The big difference between the two couples is shown in the sequence. Frankie tells Sol he should sleep in the guest room, but then joins him there on the pullout couch because she doesn’t want to sleep alone. Grace and Robert haven’t shared a bed in years. Frankie and Sol are soul friends (if not mates) and Robert and Grace are compatible superficially, but don’t really know one another.
The next morning, we see more of their house including their beautiful front hall with the gorgeous pale lavender wallpaper and the elegant dining room with teal blue grass cloth wallpaper and purple upholstered chairs. Robert and Grace await their adult daughters arrival for brunch in stony silence – though Grace was hoping not to tell them so they could enjoy one more family brunch. That wasn’t to be because Frankie and Sol’s sons had already been told and called them.
More of the beautiful dining room.
Meanwhile over at the Bergsteins, sons Coyote and Nwabudike (because hippies) have arrived to learn of the big news.
Like their bedroom, Frankie and Sol’s living room is filled with texture and natural colors, buddhas and some of Frankies quite suggestive pottery. A big suede sectional sofa fills the space and a Persian carpet grounds it. It’s got classic elements and more bohemian touches. It’s “collected” not decorated, whereas the Hanson’s house is merely decorated, beautiful as it is.
Nwabudike (aka Bud on the left) and Coyote console Frankie. Now, look at what Frankie is wearing.
The parallel scene at the Hanson’s shows Grace in beige. She would blend into Frankie’s house and Frankie would blend in to Grace’s. I started to see this because I was so enamored of the necklace that Frankie is wearing – it’s incredibly beautiful and it kept reminding me of Grace’s decor. Now, I’m not saying that they would want to live in each other’s house at all. But I do feel that there is a subtle connection being made in these costume choices.
Okay, now, think of Frankie’s blues and Grace’s tans…
Frankie has decided to decamp to the shared beach house that is set in La Jolla. The actual house used in the show, however, is in Malibu, at 3212 Broad Beach Road. The house was designed by the well-known California architect Steve Giannetti who is married to Velvet & Linen blogger Brooke Giannetti. Steve is well-known for his East Coast meets West Coast vibe which I think is well on display in this house. You can see images from his portfolio of the actual house here. They don’t film in the Malibu house – they re-created the main living area fairly faithfully though. Like Something’s Gotta Give, the show is shot on a sound stage. As I said above, I have a separate post about the house in more detail to come.
The beach house is filled with a kind of a mishmash of style – which does evolve a bit over the course of the seasons. It’s comfortable with the expected blues, whites and tans of a beach house. There’s a lot of texture and “stuff” that fills it up. It’s important to remember that this is a co-owned property so both families would have played a role in how it’s decorated.
Not surprisingly, Grace has also decide to head to the beach and we get some nice shots of the exteriors of the actual house.
Grace arrives to find Frankie already ensconced in the house – drinking peyote tea and recording her “trip” – or trying to at least. It’s clear they never used the house at the same time before.
The two ladies square off with a battle of who deserves to be in the house – alone – more. I have to say, I don’t think Lily Tomlin has ever looked more beautiful than she does on this show. But, more to the point of the post, both ladies look completely “at home” in these surroundings. Lily’s water colors and Grace’s sandy earth tones. They are beginning to “fit”, even as the zinger’s fly.
And for the first time, we get a full view of the living area of the the house with Grace and Frankie in the shot. There is no visual tension between their costumes and the stage set – again, they both fit there.
Another visual with these same interconnected water and earth tones.
After a night of partaking in the peyote and letting loose, they wake up on the beach, finding an accord. This image reminded me of this one from Something’s Gotta Give which showed Erika and Harry developing their connection.
These women are in the mid-70’s and look amazing. I know -plastic surgery, lots of money, and a makeup crew standing by all help, but still…
They return to the house and begin to settle in. By the way, Jane is settling in on the infamous Ryan Gosling chair, which we saw her dragging into the house before.
There is finally a break in the tension and a moment of true connection and enjoyment.
And then, for a final shot, we see them remember again the tenuous place they find themselves in – unexpectedly alone in their mid-70’s – which sets up the rest of the series.
What do you think of my theory of the costumes and settings tying them together visually? Make sense or just coincidence?
The Grace and Frankie costume designer is Allyson B. Fanger and Prodction Designer is by Devora Herbert.
The fourth season of Grace and Frankie drops this week on January 19th on Netflix.
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Grace & Frankie Boutique