Xtwelve’s review published on Letterboxd:
I’ll have you know the plan for this review originally from the outset was to do some sort of analytical deep dive defense of Grease, an opinion sadly formed off just how much I like I the songs apart from the actual film, but yeah this is eh, just okay (and also now going to be the object of a sloppy rant review from a broken hearted theater boy, oh goodie). I mean, I’m still rating it pretty high but for clarity Grease is more like a 3 star movie with a 5 star soundtrack and that’s just sort of how it evened out for me, anyhow, I think as much as slicked hair, wayward Travolta became a symbol of 70s latent nice guy trapped within the toxic masculine persona of a greaser first arguably with Saturday Night Fever (ironically of which this may as well be a prequel if of course the flying car at the end just led back to the neighborhood with the boys, but aside gosh Grease is more parts fever dream than I would have even known to expect and hell I’m used to how weird musical logic gets most times, though some specific songs off the soundtrack probably should have clued me in maybe, in particular ‘Beauty School Dropout’, a classic if there ever was one nonetheless though) this is still very much the film that gave the actual cultural birth to such a personality, a pretty banal comparison aside but Travolta’s Danny Zuko is just as much the strutting symbol of masculinity unto his given era as say John Wayne or James Dean are to the 50s, but it is that latter comparison in particular I find interesting, maybe it is the period piece elements, the drag racing, or just Travolta’s angst but this is clearly a sort of Rebel Without a Cause homage (more just depending to what extent you want to say, um “ripoff”) with songs and such.
But, well fundamentally the problem with that is almost too obvious to even say, Rebel Without a Cause can’t be a fun, poppy, sun-drenched romp, case in point if ever there was one that that School House Rock/Yellow Submarine opening should not be caught dead in a movie about the pressures of growing up, like to put it crudely Grease would be a nice double feature with say Mel Brooks directing Brokeback Mountain as a western of his own sort, and it shows here, that aforementioned “fun in the sun” energy literally bleaching all sense of self-awareness or just interesting coming-of-age commentary Grease had to offer, maybe worse deciding at times that character assassination naturally follows suit with making a musical, and yeah, this is more of a nitpick than anything but there are genuine ways of incorporating characters at odds together in a music number (just take the way, while pretty unsubtle that they use Rizzo in ‘Summer Nights’, but then what happened, did you forget how to create inter-musical tension, like one of, if not the staple of any other musical themed such as this is people singing shitty things at each other and being at odds in their own verses, but okay...) rather than just having everyone forget all the conflicts in their life and all the stone cold serious angst you the filmmaker spent so long setting up in that distinctly ‘Rebel’ sort of way so everyone can sing about how much they love each other and life before going back to sulking around at how genuinely miserable high school social life is shown to be for these characters.
I don’t know, it just baffles me, because look, the insertion of songs into musicals, especially their movie counterparts has, is, always and forever will be pretty clumsy and awkward, but this forced cycle of resolution through song, everything is fine, wait no everything sucks just makes it almost unbearable and not only that actually messes with the plot and pacing as much as if you did all that phony climatic making up simply in scene and without a backing track, I mean I’m just saying Randal Kleiser had better thank the Lord every night he got blessed with the greatest theater tracks known to man for how much it erases his other blunders and actually spun him onto a career path of mild success for the next 30 years, hell, without the goofy-ass extras I don’t know what I would be thinking of certain scenes at this point.
Okay, but the worst thing, that’s really just a problem with Grease as a whole, and not this film specifically is how fucking uncomfortable the last few minutes are. Like sure, they set it up as this sort of ‘Gift of the Magi’ warning about changing yourself for the sake of others, the general dangers of conformism and cliques in high school, and like that’s actually a really great idea, that is thematically and just the remedial choice for the ending to actually finish kind of bittersweet and dramatic. So the scene plays out and we are introduced John Travolta, a changed man, this converted sports star pretty boy that in the process of conforming to be Sandy’s dream guy became more of himself rather than sacrificing it oddly like besides the fact he joined the track team being a sensitive, empathetic guy is more of who he was the whole time anyway, and then we get Sandy doing the same sort of thing but then betraying her similar inner purity for an outward sexual appearance much like something out of a tarts and vicars costume party, not to mention all set and ready to fu-ck to fit where Travolta’s headspace was at pretty much the total rest of the film to that point.
And I guess I expected too much from everyone involved that Danny was going to say something soapy like “Oh Sandy, I liked you just the way you were before” and they share a passionate kiss and deep romance, or even better just end up doomed to not even be with each other in the arguably more mature ending where they have now changed beyond recognition of the other and aren’t really interested in someone “not like them” to drive home some pretty forceful themes, that is instead of immediately hitting lover’s lane in a mother-fucking tripped out flying pussy wagon (at least that’s how I interpret the ending, the most zany visualization of moving to fourth base in existence), because no, of course not, Danny is instead just like “Hi Sandy, my penis likes your new look so yeah, let’s totally fuck”, and I mean the ineptitude inexplicably tops itself maybe all of ten seconds into their sweaty true love jam finale song where Sandy talks about “how she must be true to her heart”, like I’m sorry so her changing her entire person to seduce someone she has, by all earlier accounts diminishing at best feelings for, like I’m even confused logically as to why she felt the need to change she was very autonomous previously in the relationship and not willing to fall for any Danny other than the one she met at the beach, but then because he won a car race that suddenly makes him worthy of it all??
I mean, okay, a relic of its time and shit, sure, but if you proved you can write some effective even quasi-feminist plot lines then I’m not really going to buy that excuse when you take a more regressive take on the ending that they all culminate in, and like especially Danny is innocent here, he had every motivation to make that either sorrowful or triumphant and transcendent cap to the relationship be the reality and he just doesn’t, even worse in a packed visual image throwing off the varsity jacket or symbolically his more truthful take on himself when he sees the new Sandy, his appearance now replaced by a cutoff black tank top and his same old out of place T-bird mannerisms, and why, because all his friends are marveling at the “sexy Sandy” and you know he would just be such a punk if he didn’t hit that.
Like, no, just fuck you guys, there’s so much effort put into this subtext that they obviously didn’t find as horrifying and creepy as maybe they should have given consideration to that there is no mistaking Grease’s sendoff promotion for the very concept of peer pressure they spent the entire rest of the movie trying to deconstruct and rebuke, hell, why, say simply for logic purposes would Danny want to get with this version of Sandy anyway, if only because every previous indication pretty definitively shows he doesn’t find himself attracted to the other sexually proactive, rough around the edges girls already at his gnarled, carnal bad boy fingertips at school (sure they take great lengths to build empathy and dimension for her, more of their “better” writing, but Rizzo is the tried and true perfect example of that fit with her own little alarming forgiveness end plot to boot just because the douchebag that knocked her up is actually the douchebag who didn’t knock her up or something) that was the very thing that made Sandy the object of his fascination, she was hard to get, so what the actual hell is happening? In short, I watched this instead of writing a paper for class and it left me with let's just say more things to think about that I could probably write more about of all things Grease I would know what to say for about bioethics, not limited to sparking a cult-like re-obsession with everything music related from this film for sure and a similar dream of a world where classical dance was still that damn cool, but yeah, to rip the BAND-aid off proper, most importantly I left pissed off.
No stranger to heartbreak indeed...because seriously if you can’t get me of all people to empathize with a stuck up loser coming to terms with his own inadequacy and lack of societal accomplishment with no future, than you got no one, pal. Final Verdict: A High School Musical out of 5 Rebel Without a Crews.