Film Review: Grease (1978)

in #aaa2 months ago


Too much hype and unrealistic expectations can harm general impression for many films. One of the earliest instances when the author of this review experienced that phenomenon happened with Grease, 1978 musical film directed by Randal Kleiser. I experienced it first through soundtrack album, which was as big hit as the original film, and I kept playing it for years before the first chance to watch its proper screen incarnation. Needless to say, the actual film was very different and quite disappointing in comparison what I had imagined.

The film was based on 1971 immensely popular stage musical by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, which owed much of its popularity to combination of 1950s nostalgia and subversive treatment towards popular culture and social mores of the period. The film version begins in 1958 Southern California and follows the year in life of two protagonists – local teenager Danny Zuko (played by John Travolta) and Australian exchange student Sandy Olsson (played by Olivia Newton-John). Two of them had summer romance which was supposed to end with Sandy’s return to Australia. However, it turns out that Sandy will continue to live in California and even attend Rydell High School, the same one attended by Danny. Their reunion, however, isn’t happy one because Danny happens to be leader of T-Birds, school’s greaser gang and, as such, his public bad boy persona isn’t compatible with sweet angelic “good girl” Sandy. What follows is series of an attempts to restore their relationship until Sandy decides to finally win Danny through drastic make-over.

Grease was one of the most popular films of its time and some of that popularity remained to this day. This could be best explained with the quality of original material, most notably music which faithfully recreated the sound and atmosphere of 1950s pop standards in a way that satisfied both those nostalgic to “good old” days and the younger audience. But the greatest asset of the film is undoubtedly John Travolta, playing the role of Danny in his prime and delivering formidable acting, singing and dancing talent which he had perfected, among other things, by playing that same role earlier at the stage. Travolta, who had previously created iconic character of Tony Monero in Saturday Night Fever, another musical mega-hit, delivered another strong performance and assured his status of big Hollywood star.

Casting of Olivia Newton-John proved to be less fortunate. Despite being talented singer and dancer, her acting skills were limited and her character became Australian for simple reason of not being able to speak with American accent. She nevertheless shows great chemistry with Travolta and two of them represent one of the better pairings of 1970s cinema, but their scenes together are insufficient to hide other, more flawed aspects of the film. One is Kleiser’s uninspired direction that show lack of experience with editing and thus even the drag race scene proves to be underwhelming. Even worse is poor casting, which included teenage characters being played by actors in their 30s, most notably Stockard Channing, who, despite being quite talented and portraying Rizzo, arguably the most interesting character in a film, simply doesn’t look that convincing. However, Grease, despite those flaws is very entertaining film and it could be recommended to fans of original musical and 1950s nostalgia.

RATING: 6/10 (++)

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Critic: AA