Oh, those summer nights. The older you get, the more ridiculous Grease becomes. At a younger age, it set some dubious expectations for adolescent life. It’s probably the most egregious example of adults being cast as teenagers that there has ever been – some of these high-school students look like they’re approaching their forties. They could as easily be playing the teachers. And yet, for all its outdated and cheesy qualities, the film remains a bona fide classic.
One of the best musicals ever made, Grease is perhaps the ultimate summer movie. Not only does the sun always seem to be shining at Rydell High, the mood is infectiously rosy. The songs have certainly lasted the test of time: in particular, ‘Summer Nights’, ‘Greased Lightin’’ and ‘You’re the One That I Want’ are positively contagious. This is John Travolta at his sexiest and most charismatic, before his distinctive facial features became a little creepy. He’s the standout of a great cast: Olivia Newton-John perfectly embodies the ‘girl next door’ character in its 1950s variety, an image of innocence subverted by a dramatic makeover late on; Stockard Channing’s Rizzo has the cynicism and world-weariness of someone three times her intended age, but she brings real attitude and bite: as does Jeff Conaway, who makes an electric pair with Travolta as the two alpha T-Birds. The iconic costumes and colourful set design are a crucial part of the charm, all in all creating a world where anything seems possible.
This is realised in the final reel when Danny and Sandy’s hot rod takes flight, leaving their classmates to look on in astonishment – if only leaving school in reality was that magical, right? It’s these absurdist touches, likewise the moment where a pink-haired Frenchy is visited by a guardian angel (in the form of Frankie Avalon) during ‘Beauty School Dropout’, that provide the cherry on top of the cake. Even after forty years of release, the old mantra still rings true. Grease is the word.
Grease was released 40 years ago on June 16th, 1978