As Danny and Sandy ride their flying convertible towards the sun, with their 28-year-old classmates disappearing like ants on the high school stage below, the two stars whisper into the camera “none of this is real.” “Grease” is an elaborate sham to make us feel nostalgic for the hot-rods we could never afford and the pink polka dot dresses we never wore. Set in calm 1950s, it’s no surprise that everyone in “Grease” is mostly friends, let alone entirely white. But this is the atmosphere “Grease” is specifically trying to create, a pink 1950s diner torn apart and repainted for the silver screen, emblematic for not the way things were, but the way we always thought they should be.
Starring John Travolta in his breakout role as Danny and Olivia Newton-John in her defining role as Sandy, “Grease” follows the two wayward lovebirds as they flap through their final year of high school. Danny is a member of the T-Birds, a semi-rebellious school gang, members who have a supposedly insatiable libido despite most of them coming across as virgins. Sandy befriends the Pink Ladies, more charming and ditzy than their T-bird counterparts, obsessed with boys but not to the point where they have no self identity of their own.
Guiding the story is Danny and Sandy’s on-again/sorta-off-again romance, plus a drag race the T-birds are amping up for. It seems mundane, but just like high school, these trivial problems encapsulate our attention, pulling us into the Rydell Hihgh bubble that doesn’t pop until closing credits. And just like senior year, “Grease” moves surprisingly fast too, speeding on a wave of charm with ripples of good vibes passing underneath.
“Grease’s” songs are exemplary too, catchy and melodious earworms that are insatiable even to non-film fans. Released in 1978, “Grease” could be the banner example for escapist entertainment, totally insular in its process and uncompromising in its effect.