#164 Grease

(1978, Randal Kleiser)

“I got chills, they’re multiplying”

I’ve made it known on a few occasions how much I don’t particularly like musicals. Something about the constant shift into song and dance seems to always take me out of the movie rather than draw me in. The only exception thus far was Dancer In The Dark, and even then that was hardly a traditional musical (it centred around Bjork, after all). So, here we have another classic musical in the form of Grease, but will this one win me over?

Grease, for those who haven’t heard of it (and seriously, where have you been?), is the story of Danny Zuko (John Travolta) and Sandy Olsen (Olivia Newton-John), two teenagers who enjoy a summer romance in the 1950s. Sandy is set to return home to Australia, so their romance can’t progress beyond that. However, it turns out that Sandy’s plans have changed and now she’s joining the same high school as Danny. Cue a whole load of fifties nostalgia as Danny battles with his public “greaser” image, while Sandy battles with her own “pure and wholesome” image, and how this affects their relationship.

The thing that stands out about Grease is that it’s an incredibly cheesy movie. Almost every line feels like it’s trying to be a cool one-liner, and quite a lot of it feels cringe-worthy as a result. The songs are pop fluff with little to no depth. Danny and his friends are pretty obnoxious. And the plot feels largely non-existent, existing as an excuse for the cast and crew to love out their nostalgia for twenty years prior (sort of how there’s a steadily growing nostalgia for the nineties creeping in nowadays).

And yet…it’s also blatantly obvious that this is the whole point. Grease isn’t trying to change the world. It isn’t trying to say anything deep or meaningful about the human condition. It’s not being subversive or challenging. Hell, even the seventies-based nostalgia for the fifties isn’t unique to the movie, since Happy Days already existed by this time. It’s cheesy as hell, but it’s aware of itself and revels in its own ridiculousness. And for this, I can’t be too harsh on it.

No, I didn’t enjoy it on the basis that I don’t particularly like the genre, and I have the same issues with it that I have with other musicals, but it’s hard to fault the movie, since most of my complaints are things the writers, director and producers most likely intended in the first place. Everything I took issue with seems to be more an issue with my own personal tastes rather than anything objectively wrong with the movie.

So despite that, let me explain what I personally didn’t like. I didn’t like the one-liners, since I never found them all that funny. I didn’t like that the plot was little more than an excuse to string a bunch of songs together in order to essentially make The 50s: The Musical. I didn’t like that no one even remotely resembled a teenager. And I didn’t like a lot of the acting, especially Travolta, who just irritated me most of the time.

One thing I will credit the movie for is the soundtrack. Sure, much of it is pop fluff, but the fact many of the game’s songs remain popular shows just how ridiculously catchy and fun they are. No, they don’t have substance, but they’re memorable and generally all-round well-produced pop songs. It’s hard to say tracks like “Greased Lightning” and “You’re The One That I Want” are bad, because they’re not. They’re also pretty good representations of the fifties theme, simulating rock n roll rather spectacularly.

I will criticise introductory track “Grease Is The Word” though. While all the other songs took on a very rock n roll or doo-wop kind of style, this track…is disco. Disco wasn’t a particularly big genre in the fifties, you know. Yes, Travolta was in Saturday Night Fever prior to this and Newton-John went on to make the ill-advised roller disco movie Xanadu, but there’s not really much place for disco here. It’s not a BAD song, it just doesn’t fit.

So, Grease. It was better than I was expecting, but it still failed to win me over. Put simply, if you like musicals, you could do worse, but if you don’t, then steer clear.

Starring John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, Stockard Channing & Jeff Conaway
Written by Jim Jacobs & Warren Casey (musical) and Bronte Woodard & Allan Carr
Produced by Robert Stigwood & Allan Carr
Music by Jim Jacobs & Warren Casey, score by Michael Gibson
Cinematography by Bill Butler
Edited by John F. Burnett & Robert Pergament

Favourite Scene: OK, “You’re The One That I Want” is actually pretty decent
Scene That Bugged Me: The “Beauty School Dropout” song was entirely out of place, so that’s one, and I also felt the dance competition ran on way too long. Yes, that’s two scenes, leave me alone!

Watch it if: You like musicals and the 50s
Avoid it if: You’re not particularly interested in camp value alone

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Posted on March 12, 2013, in 1950s, Comedy, Musical, Romance and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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