Twitter Plot Summary: Good girl goes bad (kind of), all to impress John Travolta. It was the 70s. But er, set in the 50s.
Five Point Summary:
1. Pink ladies – seriously?
2. The Blob!
3. That’s some effeminate hand-clapping at the ball.
4. Hand jiiiiiiiiive!
5. Do all Greasers have a crick in their neck or something?
Nostalgia is a funny thing. It tends to run in 20 year cycle, so by the 1970s the prevailing attitude was nostalgia for the 1950s. Perhaps not so much in the UK given that we were still in the depths of war-related austerity, but in the US there were no such concerns, so nostalgia for that golden post-war era of excess. Cue Grease, a 1950s set musical starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton John.
Sandy is the new girl at school. She’s just had a whirlwind summer romance with a greaser called Danny and, on the understanding that they probably won’t see each other again, they part ways. The thing is, he’s a student at her new school, where she finds that he doesn’t appear to be as much of a romantic as he appeared. Is his wayward attitude towards women all just a front on his part? Well yeah, otherwise there wouldn’t be much of a film without some form of resolution between them. Their relationship isn’t so much a metaphor for how relationships should be, it’s a full on slap in the face. It’s all about balance, kids. No balance, no workee.
If there is any criticism, it’s that almost everybody involved looks like they’re too old to be in high school. Heck, in some cases they look too old even for university, which by comparison would have been far more likely. It’s almost a Breakfast Club/St Elmo’s Fire style affair, but without a second film. For the purposes of this review, by “second film” I am steering clear of the ill-fated sequel.
Thankfully, as is the case with many musicals, the songs are entirely enjoyable, conveying story through song effectively and succinctly. That’s all well and good seeing as it’s spun out from a Broadway musical. Without such catchy material the musical wouldn’t be as enduring as it is. It also receives brownie points from me simply for the fact it isn’t 99% singing. Those films have their moments and I’m not entirely against that method of storytelling, however I much prefer the stories where characters have proper dialogue interspersed with songs. Grease is a winner on this point.
The cast too, are impressive. Obviously there’s Travolta and Newton John as the leads, but it’s Stockard Channing as the “OMG there might be a creature growing inside me!” Betty Rizzo that has the real narrative heft. The rest of the cast – greasers Jeff Conaway, Barry Pearl, Kelly Ward and Michael Tucci, and Pink Ladies Didi Conn, Jamie Donnelly and Dinah Manoff – provide ample support in both dramatic and musical terms.
Grease has an old school, feel good charm, exploiting the established stereotypes to avoid bogging the story down with excessive character development. It’s also surprisingly funny, an acerbic wit running through the dialogue and character interactions. The script is also not afraid to tackle weighty issues like teenage pregnancy. The fact it’s also a frothy musical is almost secondary. Except, it isn’t. It’s a musical, people. Just go along with it and enjoy the ride in Greased Lightning.