by D.W. Lundberg

Monday, August 2, 2010


Caught a curious ad for a movie the other day. Here it is:

No, your eyes aren't deceiving you, folks: It's Grease: The Sing-Along, where you're invited to attend dressed as your favorite Pink Lady or T-Bird and warble along with hopeless devotion. (It's a lot like those interactive midnight screenings they hold for The Rocky Horror Picture Show, only a lot less creepy.)

A couple of things seem really funny to me about this. First, you'll notice that the movie's been upgraded from its original PG rating to a PG-13 by the MPAA (for "sexual content including references, teen smoking and drinking, and language"). This is no doubt because of those raunchy musical numbers, now laid bare thanks to the lyrics that appear on screen, follow-the-bouncing-ball style, for your ultimate viewing pleasure. That family-friendly PG is no longer applicable, since the kiddies can read every single word and be expected to sing them, cheerfully, at the top of their lungs.

Pictured: "Born To Hand-Jive." At least
I think that's what the lyric says.

Second, while it's certainly heartwarming to see daughters taking their mothers (and vice versa) "share the experience" together, there's something oddly perverse about that. Is this something mothers and their pre-teen daughters should actually be bonding over? Wouldn't it lead to some particularly awkward conversations afterward? I'll tell you this much, I'd buy a ticket just to watch their expressions change from utter joy to outright horror during some of those songs, particularly "Greased Lightning," with its choice lyrics about female genetalia.

That is, if they weren't aware of that sort of thing already. I think when you first encounter Grease at a young age, you're so caught up in the sheer energy of the thing, its performances and its shameless eagerness to please, that you're blissfully unaware of what the movie's really about. And it's only later in life, when you've removed yourself from the hype and its bubble-gum pull, that the movie's questionable moral fiber finally starts to seep in. (My favorite bit: as John Travolta finishes his bittersweet, drive-in rendition of "Sandy," that innocent enough sounding ballad about jilted love, pay close attention to the movie screen in the background. There, you'll see a blatantly phallic image of a hot dog wiener jumping into a bun. And suddenly you realize it's a different kind of "love" he's actually thinking about.)

Not pictured: Subtlety.

Case in point. In college screenwriting courses, you learn there's a certain structure every successful movie script must adhere to. You have your protagonist, whom you follow and identify with from the start. This "hero" has a noble goal he or she strives to accomplish, but is thwarted at every turn by the antagonist, who stands in direct opposition to that goal. And while this antagonist isn't necessarily a "villain," per se (we each have our priorities, after all), our hero must finally defeat this enemy in order to attain the very thing he holds dear.

Apply Grease to this structure, and here's what you get: High school senior Danny Zuko (Travolta), the protagonist. His "noble goal"? To have sex. With who? Sandy Olsson (Olivia Newton-John), that hot Australian number he met on the beach last summer. When Sandy refuses to surrender to Danny ("Don't spoil it!"), she becomes the antagonist - opposes the hero at every turn. Then, after a series of tortuous misunderstandings ("Sandy, you just can't walk out of a drive-in!"), Danny is finally able to wear his woman down. And Sandy realizes that, in order to keep your man, you must devote yourself to him completely - mind, soul, and female genitalia. So she sluts herself up ("You're the one that I want/Ooo ooo ooo, honey"), climbs into a convertible with him, and together, they soar into the heavens. To have sex. With all of their friends and classmates watching, no less.

"Right here?!!"

You can deny it all you want. That's the structure. Just one of the many ways Grease is able to sneak in some valuable lessons about the birds and the bees while you're busy singing along to the magic. Judging from that commercial, it's obvious the movie continues to cast its spell. And now it's back at a theater near you. How can you resist it?


  1. Ramma-lamma-lamma ka-ding'ity-ding-da-dong,
    shoo-bop-shoo-wadda-wadda yippity-boom-sha-boom, chang chang chang'ity-chang-shoo-bop,
    Yip-da-dip-da-dip shoo-bopp-sha-dooby-do,
    boogedy boogedy boogedy boogedy shooby-do-wap-sho-bop, sha-nanna-nanna-nanna-na yipp'ity-dip-da-do, a-womp-bop-a-looma a-womp-bam-boom! the only thing I like about that movie. Well, that and John Travolta's cleff chin!

  2. It is raunchy but, minus "Greased Lightning", I LOVE the songs!! =) Don't worry, I won't be taking my oldest daughter to it! ;) My all time favorite part in that movie is when Sandy walks away from him and the jukebox and Danny laughs, "ho, ho, ho, ho." CLASSIC!! And man the introduction of Danny on the first day of school when Danny is surrounded by those girls and he turns around! mmmmmmm I just love John Travolta!! ;)

  3. Darin, this is perfect. I've always HATED Grease for the very points you make here. I've NEVER understood it's appeal in our supposedly moral culture. Go figure.