Director: Randal Kleiser
Starring: John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, Stockard Channing
Oscars: Nom – Original Song
It’s been 37 years since this now classic musical burst onto cinema screens. What followed was a phenomena within the genre, a global hit soundtrack and the birth of John Travolta’s career. Grease is still regarded as one of the most popular, if not one of the best films of all time.
Set in 1950s America, Danny (Travolta) is the cool guy at school and, with his friends collectively known as the T-Birds, they run the joint. Their counterparts and cohorts are the Pink Ladies, helmed by Stockard Channing’s Rizzo. But dynamics are shifted and relationships are tested when Danny’s summer fling Sandy (Newton-John) moves into town. Can the little miss perfect learn to fit in and win Danny’s heart? Will Frenchy make it a beautician? And will any of them make it to college?
Grease is film that challenges the nostalgic traditional view of classic suburban America, at once endorsing notions of a soda shop high school teen existence while turning the gaze from jock to bully. And even though Sandy’s transition ingratiation into the American dream, or at least their interpretation of it (and it’s no coincidence she is Australian) is the primary narrative thread, the lesser but equally poignant transformation is that of class bullies to grown ups, as the guys and gals fumble their way through senior year and learn about responsibility, family and the value of money.
Set all of the above to a rock ‘n’ rollin theme tune jam-packed with original numbers such as Born to Hand Jive, Greased Lightnin’, Summer Nights, You’re the One That I Want and the Oscar nominated Hopelessly Devoted to You, and Grease is one of the most seminal cinematic commentaries on teenage America of all time.
Almost forty years later and the themes are pretty questionable – they are quite sexist out-dated, but this is a film set in the 1950s, so on the one hand it’s not promoting a very healthy set of values to young women – put down the books, don some tight leather pants and light up a cigarette to attract the boys – but it is also very progressive for it’s time. This is why Rizzo is perhaps the most significant character, as she deals with potential pregnancy and wrestling with the concept of abortion, with her inner monologue played out to the perfectly written There Are Worse Things I Could Do. Rizzo is promiscuous but she’s independent, and she has adapted to a way of living and succeeding as an independent female character in the 1950s. And most importantly Rizzo was never dependent on a man, so even her ultimate reconciliation with Kenickie doesn’t feel like it detracts from her strong-willed nature.
Grease is such a universal story played out in such a memorable and enjoyable way that its cultural impact is immeasurable. It has become the soundtrack not just to a particular image or setting, but an entire generation. It goes without saying that the musical will always live on, but let’s just hope Hollywood don’t get their grubby hands on a remake any time soon.