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  • PG
  • Comedy, Musical
  • 1978
  • 110 mins

Grease

Grease

Synopsis

The world's oldest teenagers sing hideously catchy songs in this 1950s nostalgia-infused story of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, girl wears fetish gear at theme park, etc.

About

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It's 1958 at Rydell High and director Randall Kleiser serves up an inexplicably well-loved and unbearably rose-tinted version of a time before terrorism, gun crime and reliable hair care products.

John Travolta stars as Danny Zuko, all attitude and wet-look gel, a bad boy (1950s-style of course, so his counter-culture credentials are represented by the occasional cigarette and allusions to the fact he might not have got an 'A' in chemistry) who likes fast cars, faster women, and extremely tight trousers. Travolta brings a whole new definition to the word slick, so much so that you'd be forgiven for thinking the Exxon Valdez had run aground on his head. Oh yes, Grease is indeed the word.

The foil to this leather-clad menace to society is virginal Australian good girl Sandy (Newton-John in a performance so insipid most of her scenes are stolen by her citron-yellow twin set). They fall in love. On a beach. With big waves crashing against rocks. Just like in From Here To Eternity. But without any talent. Or cinematography. Or sex, for that matter.

When Sandy doesn't return to Oz, choosing instead to stay in America and attend Rydell High, the question on absolutely nobody's lips is will these two star-crossed lovers get back together, or will Danny's really very annoying personality get in the way?

While Danny tries to woo Sandy and still maintain his cool in front of his friends (think 'Happy Days' only funnier-looking) and Sandy pouts and cries and tries to make you vomit with honey-voiced ballads the film-makers shoehorn in a couple of mildly diverting mini-storylines. Drag racing, teenage pregnancy, dropping out of high school, a school dance - it's all there, kids.

Though every scene is familiar, due to the film's almost constant presence on television, there are a couple that still stand out as being bearable. Notably the arrival of Teen Angel (Frankie Avalon) imploring the flamingo-haired Frenchy (Conn) back to school - in the 1950s it seems life wasn't kind to beauty school drop-outs. They didn't have 'X Factor' then, though.

As Rizzo, the smart-mouthed slattern of the piece, the glorious Stockard Channing steals the picture. It's not all that surprising, really, given that as a 457-year-old actress she had rather more experience than her co-stars. Her big number, 'There Are Worse Things I Could Do', cements her position as every little girl's favourite tart with a heart.

Okay, so the storyline's ridiculous, but Grease hasn't become seminal for its Wildean dialogue. Why it has become a seminal film is anyone's guess, but the consensus would seem to be the songs. They're so familiar and catchy that to call them bubblegum for the ears doesn't do justice to quite how bland the taste is on repeated chewing.

As integral as the music is, there is also, of course, the dancing. Oh, the dancing. Travolta wriggles, gyrates, pogos and hand-jives in a hypnotically embarrassing homage to 1950s dance. There are moments where you just stare in wonder at his legs, astonished that this would elicit in girls anything other than the question "Does he have Parkinson's?" It's everything you hope your dad won't do at weddings.

How can Danny and Sandy ever be together? How can their two worlds unite? Easy. The girl loses all sense of self, dresses up like a Cher impersonator and dons a perm so bad it'd have Brian May reaching for the Frizz-Ease.

You still love it though, don't you? Shame on you.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Frankie Avalon, Eve Ardeb, John Travolta, Kelly Ward, Didi Conn, Stockard Channing, Sid Caesar, Olivia Newton-John, Jeff Conaway
  • Director: Randall Kleiser
  • Screen Writer: Allan Carr, Bronte Woodard
  • Producer: Robert Stigwood, Allan Carr
  • Photographer: Bill Bulter
  • Composer: Jim Jacobs, Warren Casey

In a nutshell

Travolta and Newton-John burn up the screen with all the passion of a potato salad while occasionally singing a song you know all the words to because they play it every week in small-town nightclubs. It'll sell millions.

by Ben Reynolds

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