VOD film review: Grease
James R | On 17, Jun 2021
Director: Randal Kleiser
Cast: John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, Stockard Channing
“Summer lovin’, happened so fast…” If you’re already singing the next line in that song, then Grease needs no introduction. If you’re not, Grease still doesn’t need an introduction – the film is burned into our collective cultural consciousness, thanks to its mix of catchy tunes, winning cast and a story about a woman apparently changing her entire personality to win over a guy. Despite all its dated qualities, though – or perhaps even because of them – Grease remains a timeless piece of musical entertainment.
John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John are on iconic form as motorhead Danny Zuko and good girl Sandy Olsson, who meet and fall in love over a wistful, innocent summer. But when she transfers to his high school and they bump into each other, their budding romance doesn’t spark to life, thanks to a toxic combination of peer pressure and social expectations. In that sense, this 1970s relic – set in the even more dated 1950s – is a deceptively timely watch, raising questions about Danny’s attempts to play it cool and aloof in front of his macho male friends and Sandy’s ultimate decision to go “bad”, perhaps less to win over her dream guy and more to reject the picture-perfect role model of Sandra Dee at the time and let loose and be herself. Whether or not our lead couple serve as a lesson in how not to make good life decisions, there are further bad examples to be found in the way that the men treat the women – the lyrics of Summer Lovin’ set the tone from the off – not to mention the copious smoking.
And yet the whole thing remains a wonderfully feel-good affair, in no small part thanks to the electrifying chemistry between Travolta and Newton-John. Travolta is something else, balancing physical comedy with swaggering bravado and serious singing chops, while also conveying Danny’s emerging strength to be emotionally honest with himself and others. Newton-John, meanwhile, manages the tricky job of being pious and innocent without seeming foolish, genuinely selling the attraction between Sandy and Danny. It helps that they’re surrounded by an excellent cast – from Jeff Conaway’s Kenickie, capable of going from arrogant and brash to surprisingly vulnerable, to Didi Conn’s endearingly kind-hearted Frenchie. The show is almost stolen by Stockard Channing as Rizzo, one of the most complex characters in the ensemble, who essays us on stereotypes and how judgemental others can be, while also maintaining her independence amid a poignant subplot.
The original musical by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey give them all a near-non-stop string of bangers to enjoy and director Randal Kleiser (Honey, I Blew Up the Kid) breezes through the showstopping medley with smarts and style – a tracking shot in There Are Worse Things I Could Do seamlessly translates the musical’s staging to the screen, while the high school dance contest cuts between the kids out on the floor and the cameras capturing them on TV with energy and wit. And, amid it all, what today would be a knowing, self-aware send-up of the 1950s is delivered here with total sincerity. It’s a cheesy classic, but it comes with burgers, fries and a milkshake on the side. All that and an opening number from Barry Gibb? What’s not to love?