Directed By: Randal Kleiser
Starring: John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, Stockard Channing
Tag line: "Grease is the word"
Trivia: Set in high school, most of the principal cast were way past their teenage years. When filming began in June 1977, John Travolta was 23, Olivia Newton-John was 28, Stockard Channing was 33, and Jeff Conaway was 26
I remember Grease being something of a phenomenon back in 1978. At school that September, all the girls were talking about it, humming the tunes over and over, and showering its two stars, John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, with praise. The movie was mentioned everywhere, from network news to The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and no matter which way I turned, I found "Grease Fever" staring back at me. So, as you can imagine, I was expecting the film to be a godsend, the ultimate entertainment experience.
I gotta be honest here: I like Grease, but I sure as hell don’t love it!
Set in 1958, Grease tells a simple story of teen love. The summer before his senior year, Danny Zucko (Travolta) meets Sandy Olsson (Newton-John), and the two have a romantic fling, an affair they both believe will end when Sandy returns home to Australia. But, unbeknownst to Danny, her plans change, and Sandy stays in Southern California and enrolls at Rydell High, the same school Danny attends. Danny, it turns out, is sort of a big deal at Rydell, the leader of a gang of greasers known as the 'T-Birds', which includes his best friend, Kenicke (Jeff Conaway). Left heartbroken when Danny no longer seems interested in her, Sandy falls in with a group known as the ‘Pink Ladies’, led by Rizzo (Stockard Channing), who’s none too impressed with Sandy’s squeaky-clean image. Deep down, though, Danny still has feelings for Sandy, and only ignores her because he’s afraid of what the other greasers might say about him dating a “good girl”. But, as Danny will discover, you can’t turn your back on true love.
So, what do I like about Grease? That’s easy: the music. With such rollicking numbers as Summer Nights, Greased Lightning, and the grand finale, You’re the One that I Want, the film’s musical sequences are positively electric, perfectly choreographed and expertly performed. Whenever they’re singing, whether together or alone, Travolta and Newton-John shine, and their love story is very convincing. Then the music ends, and what we’re left with are clunky, painfully unfunny scenes not nearly as cute as they think they are. I have never laughed at a single one of the so-called “comedy” sequences in Grease. In fact, they’re so woefully pathetic that they actually make me cringe. Whenever I watch Grease (which is at least once a year, seeing as my wife is a big fan of it), I find myself growing impatient during these scenes, waiting for the songs to kick in again. When they finally do, Grease is a lot fun. Without them, the movie’s a lot of nothing.
If I had to rate Grease from 1 to 10, I’d break it down into two scores: 8 out of 10 for the musical numbers, 2 out of 10 for the non-musical torture. No matter how you cut it, Grease is a 5 in my book, an average motion picture.
So what the hell was all the hype about?