Saturday 12 November 2022

Grease (1978)



Welcome to planet Bubblegum.

Although widely loved, “Grease” is not my jam. In fact, it is about as horrible as it gets.

Sometime back in the fifties, we follow Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) and Danny (John Travolta) through their senior year in high school. Sandy is Australian and newcomer to the school while Danny is the cool leader of the T-Birds group, complete with black leather jackets and greasy hair. During summer break they had a fling, but as school starts Danny resumes his role as too cool for school.

Sandy as a “good girl” finds it difficult to blend in with the cool people although she does get associated with “The Pink Ladies”. Danny has to make a choice to remain aloof and cool or getting along with Sandy, but in the end, Sandy solves his problem by turning badass so they can fly off together on a pink cloud (literally).

“Grease” is very much a 1950’ies musical in the MGM tradition. It is even set in that era. Both plot and setting are a pastiche with all the clichés, making it an exaggerated and unreal world, but likely one many people would wish they lived in. We have the classic breaking out in song scenes, the dancing-out-of-nowhere tropes and a reduction of plot to a bare minimum, exactly as if this had been “Oklahoma” or “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”. This means of course that it is a movie that has to be judged on those terms, but it also means that for me it is behind on points right from the outset.

It does not help that I am obviously outside the target group. The boys in the movie may not be dancing cowboys, but you only really have to replace the Stetsons with black leather jackets. With the risk of sounding misogynic they come across as young girls dream of what cool guys would look and sound like and then amped up a notch or three. From my point of view, they look like morons and losers and Danny as the worst of them as he really should know better. In “Saturday Night Fever” he was also a smart ass but somehow more likeable, probably he was equipped with more dimensions and represented a type and an attitude of the time. In “Grease” he is just a jerk. But hey, I am not a 14-year-old girl.

I believe the audience is supposed to identify with good girl Sandy who dreams of love and must pass a rite into adulthood to fulfill her dreams. Smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol and dress and act like a woman (?). Her story is in any case more interesting than that of Danny’s, but sadly underplayed (It is a musical after all).

The comparison with “Saturday Night Fever” is apt, not just because of John Travolta, but because both movies aimed at and succeeded in getting through to youth culture at the time with the major difference that “Saturday Night Fever” is a music movie, while “Grease” is a musical, which makes the movie watching experience massively different. “Grease” replaces coolness with cliché and relevance with pastiche. The music of “Grease” went on to be massively popular on a global scale, even long into the nineties you would frequently hear the songs at parties, but today I would say that the soundtrack of “Saturday Night Fever” has a lot better lasting power. That is cool today, “Grease” is not. Or maybe it is still me being outside the target group.

Of course, I watched “Grease” in my youth, who did not? But the only fond memory I had of it was watching Olivia Newton-John in her badass outfit. That worked on early-teen me (hey, I am a guy). Taking on “Grease” so many years later only confirmed my impressions from back then. I struggle with the nauseating sweetness, looking for something to like and finding that even badass Sandy has lost much of her lure.




  1. I like this more than you do, but I think I like it less than I'm supposed to.

    That said, my younger daughter was obsessed with this movie for a few years.

    1. I can understand that with a house full of fans it would rub off on you. My situation is a bit different. Growing up, nobody at home was a fan and us guys would roll our eyes at the girls for loving this.