Does ‘Grease’ still hold up?


All Star

45 years after its release, “Grease” has begun to lose some of its touch, with modern film critics such as Metacritic granting it a 7/10.

On June 16 1978, Paramount Pictures released “Grease.” Directed by Randall Kleiser, and adapted by Allan Carr from the musical script of the same name. The musical proved an immediate success, hitting $366.2 million in the box office, 61 times the budget spent on the film. “Grease” was praised by critics at the time, having been nominated for an Academy Award and winning several People’s Choice Awards. It would spawn a sequel four years later, simply titled “Grease 2.” In 2023, a prequel TV series titled “Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies” was released, and a prequel film currently called “Summer Lovin’” is in production.

45 years after its release, “Grease” has begun to lose some of its touch, with modern film critics such as Metacritic granting it a 7/10. 21st century films and viewers have become accustomed to different things. While “Grease” is still beloved by fans, it’s time to put this 70s classic back up for review.

The film takes place at Rydell High School in the year 1958. The main characters consist of two major gangs— the T-Birds, a group of five greasers with their leader being Danny Zucco (John Travolta), and the Pink Ladies, a group of five girls with their newest recruit being an Australian transfer student named Sandy Olsson (Olivia Newton-John). These two main characters met over the summer of their junior year, and fell deeply in love, spending every day at the beach together. But, after Danny believes Sandy traveled back to Australia, he returns to school to continue living his normal life, only to find Sandy has permanently moved to Rydell.

The romance between Danny and Sandy is the epitome of stereotypical highschool romance. The bad boy, getting together with the good, honest girl. As is with any film romance, however, problems arise. Immediately upon reconnecting, in order to not seem soft in front of his friends, Danny adopts the tough guy persona, treating Sandy rudely causing her to run away crying.

Their romance is all over the place, and given how it’s supposed to be a year’s worth of time within a roughly two hour time frame, events often feel out of place and random. One moment Sandy will be upset with Danny, and then within ten minutes she has forgiven him. In the story this makes sense, it has been weeks since Danny had made her upset. But to the viewer, it can be confusing and suggest an unrealistic frame of time. Although many films have time skips such as this, “Grease” handles them rather poorly.

Another critique of their relationship is the message, and how it’s executed. The message is that people should change themselves for the better of the person they’re in love with. While this isn’t a bad message to have, the context that it is placed in doesn’t particularly convey it in the best way. The way characters change in “Grease,” and the characters who are changing, delivers this message in a negative light. In the film, by the end, Sandy realizes that she has to change for Danny to accept her, and goes from the honest, good girl she was, to a “bad girl” within a couple of days. 

Not only is this a negative change, it is entirely unnecessary. Sandy isn’t even the character who should be going through this change. Danny already loved her. It really should have been Danny who should have cleaned up his act. There was some semblance of this, Danny going through the effort to become a jock thinking he’d finally be her type. This is also entirely unnecessary, as Sandy loves him too. He also didn’t improve as a person. Danny needed to treat her with more respect, and disregard his image and persona to let himself be in love with her. He needed to be more kind and sentimental to her when it really counted, and give her more attention. The way this message was placed, and the means by which the filmmakers conveyed it, left it feeling extremely unnecessary and ill-represented.

While Danny and Sandy’s relationship becomes increasingly more problematic in the film, the dynamics between the other members of the T-Birds and Pink Ladies are all humorous and presented well. One such example is between the two characters Kenickie and Rizzo. Their relationship, while not nearly as prominent as Danny and Sandy’s, is a relationship that is given a positive message and has a conclusion that is satisfactory. The other members of the T-Birds and Pink Ladies all have their relationships represented in the prom dance scene of the film, each having their own neat quirks in the way they dance and move with the music.

The musical element of “Grease” was by far the strongest part of the film. The songs were catchy and expertly performed, granting a perfect image into the musical era of the 1970s. The filmmakers wonderfully conveyed the events happening, and were sometimes very humorous and whimsical. The song, “Beauty School Dropout” focuses on one of the Pink Ladies, Frenchy, who passes out in a diner and has a dream of a guardian angel mocking her for dropping out of beauty school, while she willingly plays along with a smile. It’s irrelevant to the story, but it is still a lot of fun regardless.

The film “Grease” is an excellent window into an era in society that very few today were able to experience. It’s nice to reflect on the source of influential stereotypes and cliches developed, to learn a crucial part in film history. And although the story has elements that are lacking and unrealistic, that doesn’t derive any enjoyment from the film, and it’s a killer soundtrack.

Rating: 7/10