Summer Movie Showdown: "Grease" Review


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Summer Movie Showdown: "Grease" Review

-- Rating: PG-13
Length: 110 minutes
Release date: June 16, 1978
Directed by: Randal Kleiser
Genre: Musical, Romance

Something funny happens when movies tackle the past. As the decades pass, these movies become time capsules of both eras. They celebrate the era in which the story takes place, but at the same time, they showcase the tropes common to the decade in which they originally debuted. Randal Kleiser's iconic "Grease" takes place in the 1950s, and the exuberant, wholesome fashions and feel of the '50s definitely shine through. However, "Grease" is also a little piece of nostalgia for anyone who loves the late 1970s. "Grease" has a glitzy, over-the-top appeal that makes it an unmistakable product of the '70s.

"Grease" is a film adaptation of a Broadway musical that had been filling seats for years before Kleiser brought it to the silver screen. Set in the sunny dreamland of California, the film follows a group of teens who are coming of age in 1959. Danny (John Travolta) is a greaser with a slick pompadour, a leather jacket, and a cigarette dangling from his lips. This archetypal bad boy ends up falling hard for a girl over the summer. The object of his affection is Sandy (Olivia Newton-John), an Australian who is a good girl through and through. Sandy worries that their summer fling will end in heartbreak. As fate would have it, though, her family ends up staying in the United States. Sandy and Danny are unknowingly attending the same high school after the summer draws to an end.

It might seem as if Danny and Sandy would be thrilled to learn about each other and rekindle their romance. In high school, though, nothing is simple. Outside the idyllic bubble of summertime, Danny and Sandy realize that they are from very different worlds. Danny is a tough guy, part of a group of greasers who call themselves the T-Birds. His bad boy exterior shocks Sandy, who fell in love with a very different version of him. Meanwhile, Sandy is such a wholesome square that she gets sick after trying a single cigarette at a slumber party. Danny should be dating one of the Pink Ladies, a gang of no-nonsense girls led by Rizzo (Stockard Channing). Sandy should be dating a cartoon prince.

Over the course of the film, Danny and Sandy struggle to overcome the strict rules of the high school hierarchy and admit their love for each other. They have a whole cast of characters and plenty of teen drama to keep them company. Rizzo has a volatile romance with Kenickie (Jeff Conway), including a close run-in with teen pregnancy. Frenchy (Didi Conn) tries to figure out what her future will look like, even if it involves pink hair. The teens also deal with a big school dance, a competitive race, and other mishaps and mayhem.

"Grease" perfectly captures the feel of high school, a world in which the most trivial events can hold huge importance. Never taking itself too seriously, "Grease" revels in the Romeo and Juliet romance between Danny and Sandy. Their friends play second fiddle to the lovebirds but also manage to drum up entertaining drama on the sidelines. The whole film captures the earnest and lighthearted fun of teen movies from the actual '50s but mixes in the big hair and glamour of the '70s. It turns out to be a winning combination.

Since "Grease" is a musical first and foremost, a lot of its success hinges on its musical numbers. Happily, "Grease" really delivers. "You're the One That I Want" has become an immediately recognizable song, full of the film's signature verve and spark. "Hopelessly Devoted to You" earned a nomination for an Academy Award. Other memorable tunes include popular hits of the '50s, such as "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On." During many of these songs, Travolta, Newton-John, and the other cast members show off astonishing and high-energy dance moves, making the movie dazzling and fun.

In the end, "Grease" is not a timeless film. It has plenty of dated elements, from the costumes to the dialogue. In addition, it is hard for audience members to forget that "Grease" is a story about teenagers. Its fluffy plotlines and contrived drama lack the nuance and subtlety that a more mature audience might crave. All the same, "Grease" is an enjoyable and peppy musical that delivers exactly what one might expect. It might not have much depth, but the film more than makes up for this with its unapologetic campiness and its catchy songs. Like a summer fling, "Grease" is charming, entertaining, and not meant to be taken too seriously.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5