Static Mass Rating: 4/5

Original release: September 14th, 1978
Running time: 110 minutes

Director: Randal Kleiser
Writers: Jim Jacobs, Warren Casey, Bronte Woodard, Alan Carr

Cast: John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, Stockard Channing, Jeff Conaway

On paper, Grease seems exactly like the kind of film I shouldn’t enjoy. It’s set in a high school and there’s singing involved, and yet I’m completely pulled in because I’m a sucker for a love story, especially one that works out just great in the end. It doesn’t try to be ‘real’ and it doesn’t tell me how I feel.

Instead, its focus is on having a good time while capturing the unattainable teenage dream I always wanted.


After falling in love during the sweet summer of 1959, Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) and Danny (John Travolta) are reunited on the first day back at high school. Convinced that he wasn’t going to see her again, Danny has shown off to his bad body friends, the T-Birds, how he had a wild, sexy summer with no strings attached after he saved Sandy from drowning.

Gushing to her new pals, the Pink Ladies, Sandy sings about how she stayed up past 10 o’clock with Danny, held hands and drank lemonade.

Unexpectedly, they meet again. Social pressures cause Danny to act like a jerk and he brushes Sandy off as if she meant nothing to him. Determined to win each other back, they embark on a cheesy program of self-betterment beset with meddling friends, a drag race, and a dance-off at the all important prom…

However, at the prom, Danny’s ex ,Cha Cha (Annette Charles), interrupts them to dance with him. With her lustrous hair, high heels, an amazing dress and flashing her knickers, how can Sandy compete? During her dance with Danny, she barely gets her knees out!

It’s never explicitly said that she can’t compete with Cha Cha, but she knows it, Cha Cha knows it, the Pink Ladies know it, and we know it. Kleiser uses the colour of their dresses and hair to signify the differences between ‘the good girl’ and ‘the bad girl’, a cliché of a trope, but an instantly recognisable one. It shouldn’t matter at all, but it does. In high school, girls like Cha Cha will always catch a guy’s attention before girls like Sandy.


Even beyond high school we’ve got the equivalent of the hot girls at the bar, it’s something we can all relate to; Kleiser has created a never-ending high school experience in Grease, as he knows as well as we do that some things never change.

My favourite song from the film is the often underrated There Are Worse Things I Could Do, sung by Rizzo (Stockard Channing), who’s also my favourite character.

Rizzo is brash, she smokes and probably sleeps around. She’s happy in the way that she acts, and perhaps feels as though she is judged unfairly because she’s not spewing her emotions forth like some of the other girls. This brings an air of realism that’s enough to cut through the fluff, keeping the tone even and unsaccharine.


Kleiser breaks something of a mould with Rizzo. She’s referred to with her surname, she’s sassy, smart, stubborn, and independent. She does what she wants and dates the baddest of boys, Kenickie (Jeff Conaway), who gives her enough hickies for her to “look like a leper”. There Are Worse Things I Could Do shows us her vulnerable side, one she doesn’t show to anyone, “but I can feel and I can cry, a fact I’ll bet you never knew.” Garry Mulholland writes that this song;

“tells the truth about teenage sexuality and gives a good, hard kicking to the perennial coming of age story’. Rizzo is in charge of her own sexuality in a way that none of the other characters are, including the boys. She has sex because she wants to and doesn’t have to justify it, whereas even with our leading man Danny he’s just lying about getting laid to fit in with his friends.” ¹


Through Rizzo, Kleiser

“went out of [his] way… to assure teenage girls that wanting sex was healthy, and then punched the point home by giving the female characters a rounded, mature and honest attitude to sex”. ¹

The climax of the film features Sandy arriving at the fair in her new bad-girl outfit. Her hair is curled, her ears are pierced, she’s smoking and wearing spray-on pants and heels. She looks amazing; exactly like the kind of girl who can compete with Cha Cha.

Sandy tells Danny what she wants, and he must “shape up” to get it. In realising what she wants, and dressing like a bad-ass, she seems to have found her confidence, her voice and grown stronger, and realised that there’s absolutely no shame in being a bit more like Rizzo.


  • Mulholland, G. Stranded at the Drive In, (2011), Orion Publishing [1]

Grease is undoubtedly corny, any film that ends with a car flying into the clouds is ridiculous, but underneath that is a surprisingly feminist message.


About Frances Taylor

Frances Taylor

Frances likes words and pictures, regardless of media. She finds great comfort and escape in film, and is attracted to anything character-driven with a strong story. Through these stories, she will find meaning in the world. Three movies that Frances thinks are really good for this are You and Me and Everyone We Know (Miranda July), I’m A Cyborg, But That’s OK (Chan-Wook Park), and How I Ended This Summer (Alexei Popogrebsky).

When Frances grows up, she would like to write words and make pictures and have cool people recognise her on the street and tell her that they really enjoy her work.

She can be found overreacting and over-caffeinated on Twitter @penny_face, a childhood moniker from her grandmother owing to her gloriously round face.