|Directed by:||Randal Kleiser|
|Written by:||Bronte Woodard|
|Cast:||John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, Stockard Channing, Jeff Conaway|
A fun loving, energetic and innocent look back at times much simpler. GREASE may be the greatest high school movie ever made, mostly because it’s an idealized version of what we all would have loved high school to be like. These folks got an amusement park in their schoolyard on the last day of classes, while my principal told me to go “fuck myself”. Which would you rather have? This flick juggles an easy-going romance with the overall experience of the 1950s, a superb soundtrack and some excellent dance numbers. Of course, I am somewhat biased in my opinion, since this movie always seems to blast me back to my past as a rebellious youth and the lesser responsibilities that I had back then. The film was actually one of my first big-screen experiences, and every other scene sends me reeling back to the days of my elaborate GREASE bubble-gum card collections and half-assed attempts at Danny Zuko’s super-styling hairdo. But even apart from the nostalgic vibe, the film really packs a wallop of fun no matter how many times you watch it. I’ve probably seen it over twenty times by now and still load a shit-eatin’ grin across my face when the “a womp bop a looma, a womp bam boom” takes off. This is also the film that propelled John Travolta from a dim-witted “Sweathog” on TV’s “Welcome Back Kotter”, to a movie star of spectacular proportions (1977’s SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER jumpstarted that ascension the year prior).
What else is great about the movie? Well, you can start with the ultra-cool opening cartoon credit sequence which isn’t done enough these days, hilarious one-liners from all involved (“So are you still going out with that jockstrap?”) and enough hop-boppin’ 50s tunes and fancy dancing moves to spark schmucks like to want to learn to dance as well (without making asses out of ourselves, of course). It also takes a little getting used to if you’re not “into it”, since the sight of some of these 30 year olds playing teens is kinda weird at first. The film also has a strange dichotomy of standards, with very pure lyrics and characters on the one hand (Sandy singing about “drinking lemonade” and “staying out until 10”), and raunchy, perverted shit on the other (Rizzo: “What’s up, Kenick?” Kenickie: “One guess!” and the whole hot dog jumping into the bun sequence…nice!). I dug it all though…innocent, innuendo, perverted, pure…it’s all good in my book, as long as Danny wears that slick leather jacket and Sandy remains the most adorable chick you’d ever want to nail. And no matter how many times I see those scenes of Travolta trying to get into sports, I crack up every time (note how he keeps his comb tucked in his shorts when he’s trying out for basketball…if that’s not cool, I don’t know what is).
Now the film certainly doesn’t present us with the most elaborate storyline ever created, but it’s not really about that. It’s about a bunch of friends all having fun and learning to get along in high school…something that we could all relate to. It’s also about these same people breaking out into song and dance every few minutes, which I suppose, many of us can’t relate to, but hey…it’s damn fun to watch! It basically makes me wish that I had lived in the 50s, before guns, abortions, drugs and shit were the top draws in every high school. What happened to the purer times in our society? Rent this flick and relive them, even if it is for only 110 quick minutes. Oh and incidentally, I have never been a fan of musicals, so take that for whatever that’s worth. The actors are also all very good, especially Travolta and Newton-John, who are respectively ideal for their parts and have incredible on-screen chemistry to boot. All of their buddy-friend characters were also very well played, and I liked how they added a subplot involving Kenickie and Rizzo, to give the film a little more edge (she might be pregnant….ooooouuh!!).
The picture also features a zillion memorable scenes (that’s right, one million billion…), including the super lively National Bandstand dance contest, pretty much all of the song & dance numbers starting from “Summer Nights” at the beginning of the flick to “We Go Together” near the end, as well as the first time Danny sees Sandy after their summer together (“What’s the matter with me…what’s the matter with you, baby?”—priceless!), and plenty more. Of course, what takes this entire movie to its “classic” status is its amazing soundtrack, which boasted no less than two #1 singles, but also a myriad of toe-tapping tunes that I still listen to ever other morning (yeah, I know…it’s sad). Seriously though, if you’re feeling blue, slap this movie into your VCR or DVD player, blast the stereo, take off your pants and have a blast dancing around the house (don’t ask about the “pants” thing…maybe that’s just me). All in all, a fun flick!
The coolest thing about this movie is a womp bop a looma, a womp bam boom! Sorry, I just like saying that. Seriously though, the coolest thing about this movie is the entire “Greased Lightnin” sequence. It’s basically every boy’s wet dream…well, kind of. You’ve got the groovy tune, the ultra-cool car, the greasy haircuts, the funky dance moves, the tight pants (huh?) and no matter how many times I hear it, I just can’t help but tap my toes, rub my crotch and get my groove on when the song gets going. I’ve also been to a number of bars/clubs in my time, and you’d be amazed at how freaked out folks get when the sly DJ slaps this tune into the mix…it’s nuts! And how about those filthy lyrics for that time: “You know that ain’t shit, when we’ll be getting lots of tit”. I swear…I’m not making those words up. It gets by you sometimes, but pay close attention and see how ultra-cool that entire scene really is. Anyway, it’s just one of the many slick song & dance routines in the movie, so check ‘em all out and believe you me…they all kick booty!
Interesting tidbits about the film and its stars:
Henry Winkler, of TV’s “Happy Days” Fonzie fame, turned down the part of Danny Zuko because he didn’t want to be typecast for the rest of his career. I guess he was looking forward to playing principals in films like SCREAM (boo…low blow, JoBlo!) Marie Osmond, of seven children fame, apparently turned down the role of Sandy. Both John Travolta and Jeff Conaway were smitten by Olivia Newton-John during the filming of this picture, but Conaway eventually bowed out of the woo-fest, and married Newton-John’s sister a year later (divorced after five years). John Travolta’s real-life sister, Ellen, has a small part in this movie as one of the waitresses in their favorite hangout. She’s the one who says, “Look, it’s Sandy and Danny!” when they see them on TV during the dance contest. GREASE 2 was made in 1982 and it starred a young Michelle Pfeiffer (that’s right, THE Michelle Pfeiffer!). Make sure to look for a young Lorenzo Lamas in the static role of the brainless football player in this film, as well as our man, Michael Biehn (star of THE TERMINATOR and ALIENS) as the jock basketball player.
NOTE: This review was originally published in my 2002 book entitled "JoBlo.com presents...The 50 Coolest Movies of All-Time". Please note that these reviews are dated, and the book actually features my own PERSONAL list of faves from 1970-2000 or so.