Grease (1978) / Musical-Comedy

MPAA Rated: PG for language and sexual dialogue (probably PG-13 if released today)
Running Time: 110 min.

Cast: John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, Stockard Channing, Jeff Conaway, Didi Conn, Dinah Manoff, Jamie Donnelly, Barry Pearl, Michael Tucci, Kelly Ward, Eve Arden, Lorenzo Lamas, Sid Caesar, Annette Charles, Susan Buckner, Alice Ghostley, Dody Goodman, Sha-Na-Na, Fannie Flagg, Eddie Deezen, Ellen Travolta
Director: Randal Kleiser
Screenplay: Allan Carr (from the screenplay by Bronte Woodard, which was adapted from the stage musical by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey)
Review published March 26, 2005

"Grease" is the word, if you want a fun and vibrant time at the movies.  Based on the hit Broadway play, Grease would be a bigger hit than anyone could ever imagine, setting a box office record for a musical back in 1978.  Nostalgia films were red hot in the 1970s, probably because the post Kennedy assassination climate of the country had been so tumultuous, causing us to look back at simpler, happier times.  The 1950s were especially popular, thanks to hit shows like "Happy Days" and its ilk, and Grease only made the popularity skyrocket. 

Grease starts off during summer vacation just before the senior year, where an Australian teen named Sandy (Olivia Newton-John, Xanadu) meets tough American Danny Zuko (John Travolta, Get Shorty).  The two have a summer fling, but with Sandy going back to Australia, the two lovebirds thought they'd never see each other again.  As fate would have it, Sandy ends up staying in America, and just so happens to have enrolled in Rydell High School, the same school as Danny.  However, the soft-hearted Danny she knew from the beach isn't quite the same when he is surrounded by his macho buddies, and what was once true love becomes an awkward proposition.  The virginal Sandy is befriended by a lady gang called the Pink Ladies, who try to comfort her, and also draw her out into not being such a goody-two-shoes, while Danny must do some soul searching, having to choose to impress his friends or to give it up to be with the girl he still has feelings for.

Although I have always been fascinated by Grease, watching it countless times as a young lad, I still some slight mixed feelings about it to this day.  The primary reason for this is that when Travolta and Newton-Jon aren't onscreen, the film isn't nearly as interesting, and there are many scenes which feature neither.  Within the course of a stage musical, it would make sense to showcase the beauty school wannabe, Frenchie (Didi Conn, "Benson"), or the on-again, off-again relationship between Kenickie (Jeff Conaway, "Taxi") and Rizzo (Stockard Channing, Twilight), as they would provide opportunity for the main players to get a breather and get ready for their upcoming scenes.  Not that they are bad scenes -- just not as good as the rest. 

Still, when Travolta and Newton-John are front and center, especially together, there is a definite electric chemistry that provides some great moments and fond movie memories.  Some other critics have knocked Travolta's singing ability, as well as Newton-John's acting, and while certainly there are better actors and singers, it's hard to imagine two other performers doing a better job in the roles.

One thing I noticed seeing this as an adult that I didn't really recognize in my younger years is the amount of risqué references and spicy dialogue.  While Grease has become a staple movie for young children to watch, especially young girls, I'm of two feelings about this.  However, I know that I didn't recognize many of the references, and didn't care, just taking in the song and dance numbers, the hot rod race, and the overall 1950s ambience.

Another much overlooked aspect of Grease is the attention to detail all around, not only in the recreation of the period, but in particular, in what goes on in the background.  In no other movie do I notice how well the extras are in tune with what's going on, and there is joy in seeing the depth that everyone involved in the movie provides. 

Grease is a nostalgia movie, so it will hit home with nostalgia buffs more than those who are not.  For today's viewers, there is not only the nostalgia for the 1950s, but also in the movie itself, as we watch one of the very last non-animated musicals to dominate the box office.  Sure, one can nitpick here and there at the things that don't quite work, but with so many terrific moments, those are easily looked over for the overall sense of fun and romanticism.  A masterpiece?  No, of course not -- but still one of the most loved and revisited films of all time.  And the soundtrack is even better.

Qwipster's rating:

©2005 Vince Leo