When one of the local theaters started showing Grease, we ran down and bought our tickets post-haste. Although we'd seen it many times on video, musicals in general tend to be a heck of lot more fun in a real theater. Grease was no different, and even though there were only seven people in the theater that night, we could tell that every single one of them had a big goofy grin plastered on their face.
Grease, for those of you who haven't seen it (and shame on you!), was John Travolta's second big movie after his career was launched by the TV series "Welcome Back, Kotter." (The first was Saturday Night Fever.) In it, Travolta plays Danny Zuko, a rather harmless 1950's teenage rebel who belongs to a gang called the T-Birds. After a summer of love on the beach with Australian pretty girl Sandy (Olivia Newton-John), Danny returns to his life as a wiseguy gang leader at Rydell High. Because the T-Birds would view his rather chaste relationship with Sandy as "uncool," he fabricates stories about his summer escapades to impress them. The trouble starts when Sandy coincidentally enrolls at Rydell -- and Danny has trouble reconciling his cool factor with his feelings for her.
That's the main plot; there are many subplots involving the peripheral characters, including the Pink Ladies (the female counterparts to the T-Birds). Perhaps the best is the plight of Stockard Channing's Rizzo, who puts up with a trashy reputation rather than living the safe, boring life of Sandra Dee. Grease includes all of the standard 1950's stereotypes, from football rallies to slumber parties, and does it all in a wonderfully tongue-in-cheek way. Unfortunately, this sort of atmosphere is the only one in which Olivia Newton-John seems able to act convincingly, which probably explains her short and tragic series of stinkers later in life.
Other than the sheer playful goofiness of the film, the real reason to see it is for the music. With the exception of the awful "Sandy" (a scene which is saved only by the hysterically Freudian animated hot dog behind Travolta), all of the songs in the film are terrific. Probably the best is "Beauty School Dropout," as performed by Frankie Avalon, but the competition is fierce: between "Greased Lightning," "There Are Worse Things I Could Do," "Summer Nights," and "You're The One That I Want," and a host of others, there are too many good songs to really pick a favorite.
Travolta and Newton-John perform well as the Beautiful Couple around which all else orbits, although sometimes the character actors and their subplots become more interesting than the whitebread protagonists. It's easy to sing along gleefully with Rizzo as she pokes fun at Sandy, because what she says is so true. And who wouldn't be more interested in Frenchy's struggle to become a beautician than Danny's inner fight to overcome his stupid machismo? Fortunately, there are an adequate number of distractions from the main relationship to keep us from getting sick of the whole thing. That's really why Grease works: there's a balance of comedy and romance that keeps both elements from being overwhelming.
If we had to quickly pick a favorite scene from Grease, we'd probably mention the slumber party scene and the resulting developments regarding Rizzo. Not only does this scene harbor the giggly "brusha brusha brusha" ditty, it also features the Sandra Dee song and some fiercely honest emotional roller-coastering between Rizzo, Danny (who is her former squeeze), and Kenickie, who is on his way to becoming Rizzo's Mr Right. While the character reactions in this scene may seem a bit abrupt and extreme, it's important to remember that the emotions of a teenager can really be like that. Despite the fact that everyone looks 23 in this film, they're playing 17-year olds, and these emotions are true to the original material.
But hey, let's not make this sound like Terms of Endearment. It's Grease! It's fun! And even though you know they'll disband after graduation and lose track of each other in six months flat, it's fun to pretend that the T-Birds and Pink Ladies will Always Be Together.
Review date: 5/5/97
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