- Rated PG
- Buy the BD
Reviewed by David Medsker
verybody loves “Grease.” Kids, adults, grandparents, stoners, Goth kids, neo maxi zoom dweebies, wasteoids, everybody loves “Grease.” And here’s the funny part: it’s a naughty, naughty movie. “Greased Lightning” has two bits that would be censored on pop radio today – let’s see Kanye West get away with calling his car a “pussy wagon” – while “Hand Jive” was slang for a certain kind of happy ending. It has promiscuous women, guys using plastic wrap as a condom, and a girl who learns that the best way to get the man is to dress like a whore (more on that later).
So why is it that the movie is synonymous with the supposed innocence of the ‘50s? Personally, I don’t know, and I don’t care. The movie is an absolute blast to watch, the songs (especially the new ones written for the movie) are fantastic, and you’d be hard pressed to find another female in the history of film that looks any better than Olivia Newton-John does here.
The movie stars Newton-John as Sandy, an Australian teen (Newton-John was 29 when filming) who has a summer romance with Danny (John Travolta), the greaser leader of a gang called the T-Birds who would never allow himself to be seen with someone as lily-white as Sandy. Danny goes back to school thinking Sandy’s gone back to Australia only to realize, thanks to a stunt by Rizzo (Stockard Channing, age 33 when filming), leader of T-Birds equivalent the Pink Ladies, that Sandy has stayed in the States and goes to the same school. Danny, in an attempt to look cool in the eyes of his friends, makes fun of Sandy (she’s in a cheerleader outfit, and apparently no T-Bird would ever date a cheerleader, which is a foolish rule in our book, especially when the cheerleader is Olivia Newton-freaking-John, but nevertheless…), and stomps off in disgust. Danny, of course, really likes Sandy, but doesn’t want to give up his bad-boy image to be with her, while Sandy doesn’t understand why Danny can’t just be the Danny she knows and loves. Ah, high school.
It’s funny to think that “Grease” actually received some savage reviews when it was released. Even our boy Roger Ebert called it “just an average musical, pleasant and upbeat and plastic.” I think that’s a tad unfair. The producers were going after something a little different than “West Side Story,” something more with the times – if that can be at all accomplished with a period piece – and I think they did a great job blending ‘50s nostalgia and ‘70s style. Two of the songs written for the movie, “You’re the One That I Want” and “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” may not have been filled with doo-wops and yippity boom-de-booms, but they were showstoppers just the same and smash hits on radio (#1 and #3, respectively). In fact, there’s nary a lazy song to be found here, with the possible exception of the Travolta ballad “Sandy,” also a new song. But that song ends with the hot dog jumping into the bun on the movie screen Travolta, so it’s all good.
Travolta was as white-hot as actors get when “Grease” came out, coming hot on the heels of “Saturday Night Fever,” and if there’s any role he can play, it’s that of a macho, horny teenager. The look on his face after he gives Sandy his ring (clearly in the hopes that it’ll get her to put out), only to have her say “Now I know that you respect me,” is priceless. Channing hams it up the most, but the role of Rizzo pretty much calls for it, so no harm done. Newton-John has it pretty easy; play sweet and friendly until it’s time to unleash her inner bad girl. And let’s talk about that metamorphosis, while we’re at it. The big joke is that the message this movie sends to little girls is that in order to get the guy, you have to be a slut. And while it’s easy to make that argument after seeing Newton-John in that smoking hot leather get-up – which she had to be sewn into – who said that she had given up her morals in the process? Maybe Sandy’s just embracing her innate sexuality, rather than turning into a Rizzo-in-training. Girls can be sexy and still be pure, you know.
In the end, “Grease,” as the title song suggests, is the word, and this movie is absolutely not going away. Not now, not ever. And there is a reason for that, detractors be damned: the movie’s a ton of fun. Don’t believe me? Just try changing channels next time you stumble on it while surfing. That only happens when the horrendous “Grease 2” comes on.
Rockin' Rydell Edition Blu-Ray Review:
Though the movie looks great in 1080p HD, the Blu-ray release of “Grease” still doesn’t live up to Paramount’s normally lofty standards. A majority of the special features are from the 25th anniversary edition of the film, though those who didn’t buy that version will get a kick out of seeing Olivia Newton-John (who still looks fabulous), John Travolta and the attending cast singing the movie’s songs with a band at the DVD release party. There are a couple of new interviews – you gotta love Didi Conn – but most of the material is over ten years old. Rounding out the single-disc set is an audio commentary by director Randal Kleiser and choreographer Patricia Birch, a series of deleted and extended scenes, and a sing-along feature perfect for your next karaoke party.