I would say that I'm more familiar than most with the musical Grease, having grown up watching both it and its severely underrated sequel, as well as appearing as Miss Lynch (the bitter, menopausal spinster of an English teacher, who is Miss McGee in the film) in a truly appalling high school production. Which puts me in an excellent position to snark all over this mother.
We're treated to a soppy introduction to the romance of Sandy and Danny on the beach, and right away I have several problems with this.
1. It makes zero sense that Sandy's parents would take her from Sydney, Australia, a city known for its beaches, to spend the summer at some random American beach. Furthermore, they make an awfully snap decision to uproot the family to California when only weeks before the start of Sandy's senior year they planned on going back to Australia. What's going on here? Are Sandy's parents on the run or something?
2. I'm sorry, but I don't think that John Travolta has ever been able to pass for straight. Even when he's the romantic lead, he doesn't give off the vibe that he is all that into women.
3. But the biggest issue I have with this opening is that I don't think it does enough to drive the entire film based on the power of their love. If the whole movie is about their desire to be with one another, this scene needs to really sell that, and it doesn't. If I was the one making this film back in 1978, I wouldn't have even included it. Summer Nights provides us with enough exposition, and that way the amazing summer that they spent together is left up to the audience's imagination.
Then we transition into a delightfully anachronistic BeeGees song with some of the worst Coney Island $5 caricatures I've ever seen. If I was Stockard Channing, I would have been pissed.
From there we go to the first day of school, and I have some more questions.
1. How does Frenchy already know Sandy before they even get to school? She performs the role of Foreign Student Welcome Wagon in both Grease films, and it's just bizarre.
2. Rydell High is in California. So why is it so heavily populated by Italian and Jewish people with Brooklyn accents?
So Sandy meets the Pink Ladies, and as she is a boring drip with no discernible personality, they are unimpressed. This is meant to show that they are tough and too cool for Sandy, but in their shoes I can't say I would have been particularly excited to meet Sandy either. She actually says, "I'm no stranger to heartbreak," when talking about her move. Calm down, Sandy. No one died.
Meanwhile, Danny is bragging to his friends about the girl he met over the summer. To music, of course. He's just this horny, dopey guy whose only positive quality is that he was blessed with 1970s John Travolta face.
Side note: when they planned this shot and others like it, did they legitimately believe it was going to look cool?
Bless their hearts.
So we're about ten minutes into Grease and we've already hit upon the film's greatest weakness: Danny and Sandy are just incredibly boring people. They are completely overshadowed by their supporting cast. When you see Rizzo or Kenickie or Marty or god even Jan, they are people who seem like they would be fun to hang out with. But Sandy and Danny? There's really not a whole lot there. Sandy is nice and absolutely nothing else, and Danny is defined by the fact that he likes Sandy, wants to have sex, and easily gives in to peer pressure.
Now, in the musical, this is fine, because all of the Pink Ladies and T-Birds have a much larger role to play. But the problem with the movie is because they were able to hire hot young commodities Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta, all those other characters got pushed to the background. Greased Lightning? That's supposed to be Kenickie's number. He deserves it, damn it. It makes no sense for it to be Danny's song. It's Kenickie's car, isn't it?
The musical has a rock and roll fantasy number with Doody called Those Magic Changes, and Mooning Over You, a Putzie's song about mooning/being in love with Jan. Look me in the eyes and tell me that either or both of those wouldn't have made for a better movie than watching Danny try out a bunch of sports to see which one he hates the least but will help him get in Sandy's pants.
One of the things that does amuse me about this movie, going back and watching it as an adult, is how surprisingly tame the T-Birds and the Pink Ladies are. OK, so the Pink Ladies are seniors in high school and they're having a slumber party where they *gasp* smoke cigarettes (it's 1958, everyone did) and drink dessert wine while trying on wigs. Bad to the bone, girls.
It's the same thing with the T-Birds. It's clearly established throughout the film that Danny has absolutely zero chill and actually tries the yawning move to put his arm around Sandy's shoulder at the drive-in. Kenickie, tough ladies man that he is, bought a condom in the seventh grade and didn't use it until six years later. Which probably means that he was a virgin in the scene with Rizzo? Look, I'm not judging, I just really appreciate that for all their big talk about how much chasing tail they do, they're still just high school kids.
But the best part is when the T-Birds and the Scorpions are getting ready for a rumble and Doody has a freaking water gun.
But more often than not, the movie gets bogged down in the repetitive attempts by both Danny and Sandy to become the kind of person they think the other wants. Newsflash, guys: if you have to try that hard to be someone that your significant other can vaguely tolerate, it's probably not going to last.
I, for one, am much more interested in the Rizzo/Kenickie subplot. Fan fact: in the afore-mentioned terrible high school production of Grease that I was involved in, the material proved too racy for our rural Christian community. One of the casualties of censorship? The entire Rizzo pregnancy storyline. I shit you not.
To be fair, the Rizzo/Kenickie storyline leads into one of the weakest parts of the film, which is the confusing musical chairs hell that is their appearance on National Bandstand. Rizzo decides to go with the Scorpion guy to make Kenickie jealous. Scorpion guy looks like he's 45 and has two teenage kids who resent the shit out of him for leaving their mother to date someone their age. You're better than that, Rizzo.
Kenickie retaliates by going with Cha-Cha, the whore of St. Bernadettes who is actually after Danny. This leads to a cluster of aggressive partner swaps and many hurt feelings. Yawn. I'm so over Danny constantly doing the wrong thing and Sandy constantly running off and throwing a strop.
Luckily for my poor nerves (I was really worrying about whether or not these two crazy kids would make it), all is resolved at the end of year carnival. Sandy decides to sex herself up a little bit, because Danny obviously doesn't have enough of an issue controlling his hormones as it is.
This brings me to three important points about the carnival.
1. Everyone in the entire movie makes fun of Jan for being fat. Look at Jan at the carnival.
Oh yeah, look at that fatass. She is wearing the hell out of that green dress.
2. So Rizzo and Kenickie have sex within the first week of school starting, and that's when the pregnancy scare begins. She finds out at the end of year carnival that she's not pregnant. That is a long time to be missing your period. Just saying.
3. For the love of Christ, they couldn't have found a better way to end the movie than to have Danny and Sandy drive off in a flying car? Mr. Weasley is going to be pissed.
Alright, I'm done with Grease. I'm going to go watch Grease 2, a movie that is maybe not as good but I definitely enjoy more. How could I not? It stars Michelle Pfeiffer and Maxwell Caulfield aka Rex Manning from Empire Records.