Thursday, September 13, 2012

Grease (1978)

Seen: On a very worn vhs tape on my tv, from my personal collection.

Welcome to another episode of "Movies Alex Was Obsessed With as a Child"! Today's program will feature Grease, a movie that's morally reprehensible in most ways and generally super flawed but still manages to be pretty goddamned perfect. When bad boy Danny (John Travolta) falls in love with Australian goodie-two-shoes Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) over the summer, he's in for a big surprise when she pops up at his high school after an unexplained "change of plans" in her family's living situation. They OBVIOUSLY belong together because of true love and hormones, but his cool image among his nonviolent gang The Thunderbirds and their awesome female counterparts The Pink Ladies is threatened by her super boring squareness. They try to date but there are hindrances to their love and also lots of singing. Eventually they both realize they have to totally alter their personalities in order to conform to the other's perception of the Optimal Significant Other. Oh and also a teenager is maybe pregnant in the 1950s, but that's like a sub-subplot, no big deal.

I watched this movie all the fucking time in like third and fourth grade with my best friend from down the street, and we would always want to act out the musical numbers. Trouble was, we both always wanted to be Danny because Sandy is SO uncool, so there were some pretty serious fights, that usually involved me being a wimp and accepting dullsville Sandy's part. Sigh. Old grievances die hard, you know? While watching Grease alone in my apartment after an extremely stressful day/week/month, I was content to sing and dance along to EVERYBODY'S parts the entire time, it was great. The music in this film is sooooo good, you guys, but I'm sure you already knew that. Just thinking about it I've instantly got "Summer Lovin'" caught in my head and I am all the better for it. Yes, they cut a lot of songs from the play (though several are heard in pieces at the dance, or on the diner jukebox) and they added two- the way boring "Hopelessly Devoted" to give Newton-John a spotlight solo, and one of the best songs of the movie, "You're the One That I Want", which makes all of their changes ok. As a kid the tight-panted gyrations of "Greased Lightnin'" stirred certain feelings, and now I love the song for how incredibly sexual it is. Every song except "Hopelessly Devoted" is great, basically, and I couldn't care less how ridiculous the story is or how weirdly old all the actors are, because I'm having such a good time.

The script is goofy, relishing its 1950s references and sexual innuendo. The camaraderie among the cast is palpable, so it's honestly entertaining to just watch them hanging out. I love the more intimate, silly scenes like the girls' sleepover, and Danny and Sandy's date at the drive-in. A lot of actually serious topics are dealt with, from teen pregnancy to dropping out of high school to societal divisions, but nothing is treated with gravitas. The only serious moment in the whole movie is Stockard Channing's beautiful rendition of "There Are Worse Things I Could Do", a defense of her perceived-as-"slutty" behavior when hit with antiquated moral judgments. The overall message of the film is that completely changing your personality and appearance to please the guy you wanna date will make your life better, but you have to WANT IT, you know? Also: Love makes cars fly, which is terrifying.

It isn't actually perfect, but it could fool me because I love this movie so much. It's just fun, and generally its flaws make me love it more. To me it's adorable that Dinah Manoff (Marty) couldn't dance so she stumbles awkwardly through "Beauty School Dropout". Or that Olivia Newton-John is really obviously in her 30's as she bops around like a 16-year-old. Or that the car chase isn't very well filmed so it's kind of anticlimactic. Of course much of Grease is legitimately awesome. It's great that classic actors like Joan Blondell, Frankie Avalon, and Eve Arden have comedic supporting roles, lending an extra dose of nostalgia to the proceedings. And the SONGS, OH THE SONGS.


Pair This Movie With: Well we all know I adore the sequel. I also assume Travolta's other big musical hit from the previous year, Saturday Night Fever, would go well, but I haven't seen it.

My original poster design for this film is available for purchase.


  1. I remember seeing a re-released edition of 'Grease' a bunch of years ago (don't remember exactly when). It was a packed house, and everyone screamed with delight the first time John Travolta appears on screen. Great moment.

  2. Gah! See Saturday Night Fever!

  3. Rich: Yes I vaguely remember it getting re-released, possibly for the 25th anniversary? I've never seen it in a theater but I imagine it'd be great fun with a responsive audience!

    Alexa: I know, I know!