Grease was first performed on stage in 1971. It was written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey who don’t seem to really have too much to their name outside of Grease. Allan Carr and Bronte Woodard adapted their stage musical into a film script in 1978. The two would go on to write the 1980 film Can’t Stop the Music starring the Village People which is notorious for inspiring the Golden Raspberry Awards… I’m so tempted to drop this review and go watch that instead.
We’ll get to it…
Grease opens with some cheeseball love story opening- it’s so cliched, but people ate this shit up in 1978. It looks like some lost montage from a ’60s Elvis movie. The musical swells are over the top as hell and sell the whole thing… in a total cheeseball way. I guess that’s what this movie is at heart- a big fat ’50s cheeseball. Anyway our first song comes on the abruptly cut heels of the opening romance, but it’s an awesome song. “Grease” was written by Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees and you can tell… but for a Bee Gees song, its a pretty sweet one. Barry Gibb and the rest of the Bee Gees starred in their own musical film in 1978 along with Peter Frampton called Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band… and it is atrocious.
Again, we’ll get to it…
But apparently it lead to Peter Frampton playing guitar on the title track of Grease. These are reasons “Grease” is an awesome song. The title track from Grease might be my favorite song in the whole thing and it’s exclusive to the film. It was never part of the stage play ’til the movie. I can’t justify opening a period piece about the 1950s with what is clearly a disco track from the later ’70s but you just can’t beat Peter Frampton’s sexy guitar licks. Its basically just a Bee Gees song with Frankie Valli singing… and DAMN does it groove.
I don’t have much to say about the animation in the opening sequence here by John David Wilson. It’s got a cool School House Rock-ish look to it outside the awkward drawings of the cast. (Someone apparently thought Stockard Channing looked like a chipmunk on meth) It fits the music well enough and is adequately fun… not too much, not too little. The title track is the real strength of these opening credits.
Our lovers from the opening Sandy Olsson and Danny Zuko played by Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta are going back to high school completely unaware that its the same one… Sandy was supposed to go back to Australia but plans changed at the last second and here we are. The next major song is “Summer Nights” a catchy little musical number about the key differences of how guys and gals share the details of a personal love affair. Its also about how Danny and Sandy present themselves to others. This scene is classic movie musical incarnate. Everything about it exists in its own little world completely free from the practical clutches of reality. Which brings me to…
So we have the T-Birds and the Pink Ladies. I’d go into more detail about them but I could give a shit about these characters. Most of their gimmicks are that they’re obnoxious as hell. There really isn’t a single likable character in Grease when you get down to it. They’re all morons. I guess I kind of like Eugene… the fact that he’s Eddie Deezen helps but he’s barely in the movie. The following evening, everyone is at the school pep rally and after a lot of meandering, Our two protagonists finally discover that they go to the same school… How didn’t Sandy not already know he went to Rydell? Are we really supposed to believe they never got into where the other went to school? I find that a little hard to believe but whatever. Am I the only one to notice Rydell High School’s fight song sounds like Monty Python’s “Sit on My Face” at the beginning of it… that’s a little distracting. Anyway Danny and Sandy finally reunite. They’re ecstatic to see one another and what happens? Danny makes an ass of himself by trying to play it cool in front of his friends. This will happen at least two more times throughout the course of the movie. Hashtag Peer Pressure.
Rejected and embarrassed by a charade of indifference, Sandy storms off and cries against a car while Frenchy-one of the Pink Ladies-consoles her and invites her to a sleepover at her house. This is where we get our third major song in the film “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee”. It’s a song lead by Rizzo where the Pink Ladies make fun of Sandy behind her back after she chokes on a cigarette and gets sick from drinking wine. Points for creativity on the premise of the song… points off for the fact that it sounds like an Alvin & The Chipmunks Christmas song. Somewhere out there, I’m sure someone finds these girls dancing around with blonde wigs, singing about how despicably un-slutty Sandy is funny… but it does nothing for me.
The T-Birds show up at Frenchy’s house, Rizzo leaves with Kenickie and Travolta-I’m just going to refer to him as Travolta from this point on-goes off to be emo somewhere. Sandy goes into the backyard and wastes some paper in a kiddie pool and we get our next number “Hopelessly Devoted to You”. The fact that it wasn’t written originally for Grease is pretty obvious but on its own, its a sweet, harmless little pop number with some country-fied steel guitars in the background and a sweeping chorus. Its an accomplished pop song but I just can’t shake the fact that I feel like this was originally written with someone like Carly Simon or Carole King in mind. And I don’t need to point out to anyone that Olivia Newton-John is NO Carly Simon or Carole King.
Meanwhile… at make-out point… Kenickie and Rizzo’s intimacy is interrupted by the leader of the rival gang The Scorpions. His name is Leo and he looks at least 42… I NEVER understood this. Like okay-no one in Grease looks like they’re in high school. Most of them look like they’re in their mid-twenties to early thirties. Whatever. This dude looks like he’s in his forties and he’s got nothing better to do than terrorize high schoolers? Oh and Kenickie discovers his condom is broken and they bang anyway and she gets pregnant-I’m not glossing over this anymore than the movie does. Hard cut to the high school auto shop where the T-Birds roll in Kenickie’s shitty car and John Travolta sings about how awesome it could be if they fix it up-and use it to pick up girls-as they imagine their ideal goofy looking car. “Greased Lightnin'” is probably the second most famous song in this movie. It’s the 50s, so we have to have a song thats blatantly ripping off Elvis Presley… Having said that, for as intentionally cheesy as it is, it’s a fun little number. There’s an indefinable charm to this sequence. Every corny aspect ends up working for instead of against it but I can’t help feel like this is how that scenario would play out in real life…
(Only the first 40 seconds)
Cut to the malt shop where Sandy is on a date with one of the yuppie jocks from school. Travolta doesn’t like that but he plays it cool… and by cool, I mean acting like a jerk to the girl he supposedly loves AGAIN after attempting to apologize. Now he’s under the impression that Sandy digs jocks so he decides to try out for… whatever. First basketball which he fails at, then wrestling which he fails at, then baseball… which he fails at. Finally the coach puts him on the track team which Sandy does take a liking to. The two reconcile-quite quickly for that matter-and finally go steady when they decide to go to the big dance together. Back at the malt shop, the gang gets together and shortly departs from one another as Rizzo and Kenickie have a falling out and throws a milk shake in his face. The only one left is Frenchy who dropped out of Rydell to attend Beauty School. where she accidentally dyes her hair hot pink. I wonder if there’s a Hipster Frenchy meme… If not, there should be.
Frenchy’s “guardian angel” Frankie Avalon shows up in a fantasy sequence and sings a song about how she should go back to Rydell. As far as musical homage goes, the movie never gets it more right than they do here with the doo-wop throwback “Beauty School Dropout”. Occasionally the lyrics are a little too on the nose(Gotta be goin’ to that malt shop in the sky… In case you forgot its the ’50s) but the production on this song is perfect. The strings, the background vocals and the bass guitar all sound great, Frankie Avalon does really well with the lead and despite the fact that she doesn’t do anything in this song, Frenchy is the closest thing to a likable character in this thing and without her, we wouldn’t have “Beauty School Dropout”. A true stand-out song from the admittedly already mostly consistently good soundtrack.
We cut back to-Oh Fuckin’ hell-the autoshop. Obnoxious as hell… and they’re morons. Sound familiar? Let’s move on. Rizzo goes to the big dance with Leo to make Kenickie jealous. Sha-Na-Na is there playing a bunch of covers from the 50’s and they’re doing an episode of American Bandstand at the dance. More clumsy attempts at comedy happen and Kenickie shows up at the dance with a lady who is so old she makes the late twenties-early thirties cast look like believable high school students. They’re quirky, rambunctious high school students… Presumably at an adult high school. So American Bandstand is hosting this dance-off… I know this is like a big scene in the movie and everything but… Man, I really don’t have much to say about it. It’s like… It’s like… a watered down Dirty Dancing cast with a bunch of obnoxious morons. Why yes, Travolta’s outfit is looking a bit like a precursor to Saturday Night Fever, isn’t it? Travolta wins the dance contest-but not before pissing Sandy off again and having her run away… again.
Cut to another cliche 50s setting-The Drive-In, Vintage trailer for The Blob, Travolta and Sandy are in a car discussing what happened, they make up and he gives her I think his class ring-I’m not even going to bother to look it up. The big romance of Danny and Sandy in this movie that everyone loves and adores so much… It’s grating. It wears on you. Guess what happens next? He tries to cop a feel and she runs away. So… let me get this straight, movie… Number one musical in American History… you’re going to give us a song to make us feel sympathetic for this asshole when he’s done nothing but treat this girl like shit throughout the entire thing so far? Why? Because he’s the cool guy? Because he’s the Fonz and James Dean and John Travolta from Greas-Oh wait I can’t use that example… Ah well. “Sandy” is… a good song… on its own. Its placement in the movie could’ve used a better strategy behind it considering like I pointed out, Travolta has done nothing but treat her like shit up to this point. “Sandy”-Like “Beauty School Dropout”-has really great production to it. The spoken part is just about as cheesy as it gets. But hey-it was a thing in the 1950s. You can’t say Grease doesn’t know the ’50s.
Alright, we’re almost through this fucker! Greased Lightnin’, I don’t know if they ever actually call the car that again outside of the song, is completed and looking a lot less ridiculous than it did in their dream/musical hallucination/whatever the fuck you want to call those. They’re ready to race Leo-who again is old enough to be the father of someone in high school let alone be rivals with high school kids-but first we have to get Rizzo’s song about how she feels little to no hesitation about having sex and seemingly no shame about it out of the way. It’s not a terrible song but we’re sort of lead to believe that it will give us insight into her character and it tells us nothing we don’t already know. Once again, the high-gloss music production kind of steals the show here. Anyway on to that big race. The climax of the movie which takes place at… Thunder Road? Was that a Springsteen reference in my review? Kenickie gets knocked out and Travolta has to race after they decide that they’re racing for ownership of the cars. Wacky Races ensue as the Scorpions car sports spikes on its tires to damage the T-Bird car. The race is… adequately shot… I’ve seen worse car chase/race camera work to be sure. The fact that its shot in the Los Angeles River just makes me think the T-1000 will show up any minute in a torn apart semi.
Before we know it, the school year has come to an end. John Travolta seems to have learned a thing or two about how to date an uptight, wholesome chick and I think he’ll be a better person because of it… Oh. I’m sorry. What? Sandy changes her image and Travolta learns nothing? I… I… I got chills. They’re multiplyin’. And I’m losin’ control. Cause the power you’re supplyin’. Its electrifyin’! I’m sorry but “You’re the One that I Want” immediately cancels anything I have to say about the ending of this movie. Again its sort of obvious this wasn’t written for the stage show. Its a serious departure from the ’50s motif of the songs but… this song IS Grease. It’s catchy as all hell and overall a really, really well-composed pop song. The visuals are fuckin’ goofy but I dare say it’s irresistible. This entire sequence is the definition of iconic when it comes to musical films. The final song “We Go Together” is a big dumb celebration song bidding us farewell. It’s a lot of fun… And then John Travolta and Sandy fly away in their car. The End.
Grease has a lot of fans that are passionate about this movie. I am someone who’s more a casual fan of its soundtrack and a handful of the impressive, fun to watch musical numbers in the film, but there’s a reason this movie has endured so long… I can’t really say I know what that is but that’s fine. I was bullying this movie a little bit but I was doing it all in good fun. I do enjoy this movie, its just got a lot of problems that are difficult to overlook but in no way do I wish to take away someone else’s enjoyment. I was just trying to make a few jokes. So enjoy your goofy, cheeseball 1970s imitating the 1950s throwback musical filled with obnoxious moronic characters. There’s nothing I can ever do to take away its value to you.
… Plus this movie has Eddie Deezen in it!
Take a Drink: for every song on the soundtrack
Take a Drink: for anything that feels like its more ’70s than ’50s
Take a Drink: whenever someone says “Sandy”
Take a Drink: when you can spot Eddie Deezen or Lorenzo Lamas
Take a Drink: when you’re annoyed
Do a Shot: for your personal choice of best song-My pick is “Grease”
Do a Shot: for your personal choice of worst song-My pick is “Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee”
… But what if they made a sequel?
TO BE CONTINUED…