Making the Grades
Special Note: Grease is re-releasing in select theaters on July 8, 2010 in a sing-along version. The MPAA has also revised its rating of the popular 1978 film to PG-13. It was originally awarded a PG
(the film has not been altered). An update: A NY Times article says the movie "features some minor lyrical changes to make the songs less crude." Check here for more information from Paramount Pictures.
Original Release Date: June 15, 1978
In the summer of 1978, Grease was indeed "the word." Featuring John Travolta, still sizzling from his previous success in Saturday Night Fever (released in 1977), and heartthrob singer Olivia Newton-John, the show had teens toe-tapping in a retro 50s style while humming along to the catchy tunes.
Yet those long ago fans--who now are parents and possibly even grandparents-- may be a bit surprised to watch this Broadway musical film-adaptation today. Without the star power to blind and the chart-topping feel-good music to deafen, they are likely to see and hear more sexual innuendo and poor role modeling than they remember from those bygone days.
In a classic case of opposites attract, squeaky-clean Sandy Olssen (Newton-John) falls for greasy Danny Zuko (Travolta). Meeting during the Australian lass's Californian vacation, the naive girl doesn't realize the dream boy of her Summer Nights is really an experienced womanizer and member of a gang of lowlifes that call themselves The T-Birds. Or at least not until an unexplained change of plans has the blonde beauty relocating to America and serendipitously enrolling in the same school he is attending.
The gig is up as soon as their paths cross on the football field of Rydell High. However, instead of letting go, Sandy continues to privately be Hopelessly Devoted to Danny. Meanwhile, she takes refuge in the friendship offered by Frenchy (Didi Conn) and her pals The Pink Ladies. Unfortunately, these gals are only a shade lighter than scarlet women, and their leader Betty Rizzo (Stockard Channing) is quick to tease the foreigner for her wholesomeness, while pressuring her to drink, smoke and sleep around.
During the course of their final year of school, these seniors find plenty of opportunities to sing and jive (thanks to many musical extravaganzas and an American Bandstand knock-off dance competition), rumble with a rival gang, soup up a car called Greased Lightening (with parts just as hot as their vehicle), bet on and participate in illegal racing, as well as mess around in the back seat (passionate kissing and moaning are depicted, safe-sex practices are considered but abandoned, and one unmarried character suspects she is pregnant.)
By the end of the movie, Sandy needs to decide what's the worst thing she could do --continue to be who she has always been and lose the one that she wants, or dump her "Sandra Dee" image so she and Danny can go together? Despite the unplanned predicament of her friend, Sandy's choice is as obvious as the "electrifying" skin-tight spandex pants and off the shoulder shirt she sports during the movie's closing moments.
So why does Grease look so different now that we are thirty years older? Perhaps we were just too innocent back then to notice all the sexual innuendo (although you'd think we knew enough about the birds and the bees to understand a missed period had nothing to do with a typewriter malfunction). Or maybe we just didn't have enough life experience to recognize the serious consequences of pursuing the path of the Danny Zukos and Betty Rizzos. Now, thanks to our acquired wisdom, we are more likely to hope our own offspring act a bit more like Sandy Olssen -- that is before she succumbed to the idea of, "If you cant beat them, join them," and undoes everything we as parents try to teach about withstanding negative peer pressure.
Instead, caught up in the popularity of John and Olivia, the contagious excitement of the participating cast, along with the song and dance routines that were part of the 1950's revival sweeping the country at the time, we overlooked these themes as easily as we excused the obvious age discrepancies between the characters and the actors chosen to portray them (Travolta was in his early twenties, while Newton-John and Channing were in their thirties.) But without such distractions, our kids may prove to be more perceptive than we were.
Full of teen promiscuity, smoking, drinking, being disrespectful to authority figures and breaking the law, the only actions worthy of emulation come from Frankie Avalon's cameo song Beauty School Dropout (and the impact of his "stay in school" message loses much of its punch because he's a teen idol forgotten by today's generation). Parents thinking of sharing this feature with their family may want to carefully examine their sentimentality first.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Grease.
When Sandy first describes her summer relationship with Danny to her friends, she tells them, "He never laid a hand" on her. In response one girl concludes, "He’s a creep", while Sandy maintains, "he was a gentleman." Why do the two girls have such a different perspective?
Rizzo’s character teases Sandy by saying the pure and wholesome girl is just like Sandra Dee. (Popular during the late 50s and early 60s, the young movie star was famous for playing a sweet teenager in the film Gidget, and as Debbie Reynolds’ replacement in the popular Tammy franchise. A portion of Sandra Dee’s life is depicted in the movie Beyond the Sea, the dramatized story of the life of her husband Bobby Darin.) Why is being a "nice" girl considered so disdainful in many of the movies aimed at teen audiences?
In today’s movie making industry, teens are seldom shown smoking, although implied sexual activity and drinking are still very common. Why do you think portrayals of cigarette use have declined over the years? How does the current view of what is "politically correct" affect what we see in films and other media?