tek's rating:

Grease (PG according to the version I have, though other versions might say PG-13)
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Caution: spoilers.

This came out in 1978 (a few months before I turned 3). It's based on a 1971 stage musical (which I've never seen). I must have seen the movie any number of times in the 80s, on TV or VHS. I'm sure I at least kind of liked it, but surely not as much as some people do. There was a sequel in 1982, and in 2016, there was a live TV production based on the 1971 stage musical and the 1978 film. And a few days or so before the TV version, I read an article online called Four Reasons Why Grease is a Feminist Musical. I don't think I'd ever really thought about it like that before. In fact, if anything, I probably saw it as more sexist than feminist, so I found the article quite interesting and enlightening (and it's part of what makes me like the movie more now than I used to). A couple months after the TV version, I finally got around to watching the 1978 movie on DVD, to write this review.

Anyway, it's set in 1958 (according to Wikipedia; I never saw or heard any year mentioned in the movie, though it was obviously the 50s). It begins during the summer, with a sort of montage of two teenagers on vacation on a beach somewhere. Sandy Olsson (Olivia Newton-John) is from Australia, and Danny Zuko (John Travolta) is from... actually I have no idea where, except that it's in an American city. (Apparently in the original play, Sandy was from somewhere else in the U.S., and was only made Australian for the movie because Newton-John played her.) At the end of the beach montage, Sandy is worried that she and Danny, who have fallen in love during their vacation, will never see each other again. He tells her it's only the beginning for them, at which point an animated opening title sequence begins. I suppose I always liked the opening theme song well enough (though I may like it more now than I did when I was younger), but until I watched the movie in 2016 (for the first time in quite a few years), I had no recollection of the animated sequence, and I really liked that a lot. (Honestly, even now I don't recall having even been aware of it before this, though I must have been, back in the 80s. It's hard for me to imagine now how I could have found it so forgettable.)

Well, then we're back to live-action. The school year begins at Rydell High, where Danny (who had presumably seemed more respectable over the summer) turns out to be the leader of a gang of greasers called the T-Birds. The only one of them besides Danny who has ever been at all memorable to me is Kenickie (Jeff Conaway). The other T-Birds are Doody, Sonny, and Putzie. We also meet a group of girls called the Pink Ladies, led by Rizzo (Stockard Channing). My favorite Pink Lady has always been Frenchy (Didi Conn). Aside from Rizzo and Frenchy, there were also Jan and Marty (the latter of whom was played by Dinah Manoff, whom I would later like in other things, but I had absolutely no memory of her having played Marty in this movie, and even now I had some trouble recognizing her, at first). Anyway, we also meet the strict school principal, Ms. McGee, and her scatterbrained assistant, Blanche. And we learn that Sandy has transferred to Rydell, though apparently she has no idea that Danny goes to school there. She is quickly befriended by Frenchy, who wants her to become a Pink Lady, though Rizzo thinks she's too "pure" for that. Oh, and I guess I should mention a couple of other students. There's a nerd named Eugene Felsnick, whom the T-Birds like to pick on. And a girl named Patty Simcox, who seems to be more upbeat and respectable than the Pink Ladies (so they clearly don't like her, though she seems unaware of that). Anyway, she's running for vice president of the class.

At lunch on the first day, Danny tells his friends about his summer romance, while Sandy tells the Pink Ladies about hers. They do so in a song called "Summer Nights," the first song of the movie that's actually by any of the characters. (And the first line is "Summer lovin', which is what I always mistakenly remember as the title.) I've always thought it's one of the most fun and most memorable songs of the movie, though Kenickie has a verse in it that always troubled me. (And I'm not the only one.) Anyway, when the Pink Ladies find out that the guy Sandy was telling them about is Danny Zuko, they all think it's funny, especially Rizzo. The only one who is actually concerned about Sandy is Frenchy, but she doesn't say anything to her. And sometime later, Sandy has become a cheerleader, so she participates in a pep rally one night. The T-Birds are hanging on the outskirts of the rally, and when it's over, Rizzo and the Pink Ladies bring Sandy over to them. At first Sandy and Danny are excited to see each other, but then suddenly Danny decides he has to act cool in front of his friends, and his attitude leaves Sandy heartbroken.

To help her get over it, Frenchy invites Sandy to a sleepover at her house, where the Pink Ladies try (and fail) to corrupt her with cigarettes and wine. Then Rizzo sings another of the movie's more memorable songs, "Look At Me, I'm Sandra Dee," to mock Sandy. Then the T-Birds show up outside, and... I suppose I should say that at some point in the past, it seems like Rizzo and Danny were a couple, but I'm not sure exactly when or how that ended. And now Rizzo and Kenickie get together. Oh, also, Kenickie had a summer job, from which he saved up some money to buy a car. It's in pretty rough shape, but he has big plans for it. I also need to mention that there's a rival gang called the Scorpions, and their leader uses his own car to bang up Kenickie's car. The next day, Kenickie enlists his friends to help fix it up. While most of them mock his car, Danny uses the song "Greased Lightnin'" to express his belief in its potential. (I feel like I used to vaguely dislike the song, but in the years since I last saw the movie, it's one of the songs I found at least somewhat memorable, so now I kind of like it. I still don't think it's great, but it's not bad. Though some of the lyrics are a lot more risque than I remembered. And the choreography was pretty cool.)

Eventually, Danny apologizes to Sandy for the way he acted, but by then she was dating some jock. So Danny tries out for various sports, himself, and they finally get back together. Meanwhile, Frenchy had dropped out of high school to attend beauty school, but... that didn't go so well. So her guardian angel (played by Frankie Avalon, most familiar to me from Back to the Beach) sings "Beauty School Dropout" to help her get back on the right path. That was pretty neat, and another of the most memorable songs in the movie.

And, well, other stuff happens. Rydell hosts a dance that's broadcast on "National Bandstand," the host of which, Vince Fontaine, takes an inappropriate (but apparently reciprocated) interest in Marty. There's a drag race at Thunder Road. There's relationship ups and downs for Danny/Sandy and for Rizzo/Kenickie. And I guess the other T-Birds and Pink Ladies had relationships, but that wasn't very important. At the end of the school year there's a carnival, at which Danny and Sandy sing another of the most memorable songs, "You're the One That I Want," followed closely by the whole cast singing "We Go Together." And... I've left out a few specific details of the plot, and a few of the songs I found less memorable (though they were actually good songs, generally more serious and dramatic than the ones I found more memorable). Of course I feel like I've said too much, but... I don't know how not to. Anyway, it has a ridiculously feel-good ending. All in all, I enjoyed the movie more than I remembered liking it when I was younger (and indeed, I think it's probably not a great idea to watch this for the first time before you're even in high school). And, um... I did like some of the characters who hadn't made an impression on me at all, in the past. So now I wish they had larger roles. But whatevs... it's still a really fun and nostalgic movie.

See also Grease 2


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