Director: Randal Kleiser
Original Release: 1978
Choice: Purple Penguin's
My Overall Rating: 3 stars out of 5
Our daughter had never seen Grease before but her interest was piqued when I was playing the Broadway soundtrack in the car. As I have written before, musicals tend to have either strong music and mediocre story (My Fair Lady) or the other way around (A Chorus Line). Rare indeed is the classic that can pull off both (take a bow, West Side Story). Grease falls solidly in the My Fair Lady camp. On the strength of its songs - "Summer Nights," "Greased Lightning" ("That was cool!" the Purple Penguin said), "We Go Together" and many more - Grease will live forever. While the '50s imagery and the farcical concept of teen life are still fully capable of capturing the imagination of adolescent girls (one of my current middle school students is obsessed with the movie), Grease was never a threat to win a Pulitzer.
My Wife kept reassuring the girl that high school isn't really like what's portrayed in the film. For one thing, I pointed out, there's no way so many of the guys at her school will be able to dance. Apart from the music, the dancing is very strong, led by Travolta, of course. For the second year in a row (Saturday Night Fever came out in '77), he was the perfect casting choice in a movie where his feet alone could have carried the film. The next Gene Kelley? Not a chance. It would be 16 years before he got another role with comparable cultural impact. 21 years after that, he made an ass of himself at the Oscars. Oh, Danny...
As for the rest of the cast, Olivia Newton-John is there for her voice and her looks, not her acting. Most of the supporters are strong, especially those cast in the few "adult" roles: Eve Arden as Principal McGee, Sid Caesar as Coach Calhoun and Joan Blondell as Vi. The class of the operation is Stockard Channing, admittedly a bit old at 34 for the part of Rizzo. Already an accomplished stage actress, her stock soared after Grease and decades of acclaimed work followed, rewarded with a Tony and three Emmys.
There's no shortage of dirty jokes but I think most of them went over our 11-year-old daughter's head. She didn't even complain about the kissing. The dance-off story required some explanation afterward but otherwise, she enjoyed the movie.
It's amazing to think Grease is nearly 40 years old. I have no doubt that 40 years from now, it will have lost none of its charm. The story will still be dumb but "Greased Lightning" will always be cool.