Grease is an institution. Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey’s original 1971 musical was so popular it was adapted into a movie just seven years after its inception. A movie that was better and more life-changing than it had any right to be. There are those who scoffed at Chicago‘s Best Picture Oscar win but Grease is cheesier, sillier, and far more resonant, even 40 years later.
Women of a certain age will have watched it over and over again throughout their lives, sharing inside jokes with friends, family members, and colleagues. Now, another generation is discovering the movie, and the stage show from which it was adapted, thanks in at least small part to Grease: Live. The full-scale TV production was loaded with glitz and glamour, giving Grease a modern tint. As with any older (read: classic) movie, though, there are certain things that go over our heads as kids and young adults. Certain moments that begin to take on a grander meaning as society changes and grows. These are all the things in Grease you only notice as an adult.
Everyone in Grease looks super old
This is kind of an obvious one, but it’s only as we viewers age that the actors playing Danny, Sandy, et al., start to look that bit older too. One of the original incarnations of the show was framed by a high school reunion, which meant casting older actors made total sense. And, if Rizzo and the rest of the Pink Ladies kicked off Grease stood in the gym surrounded by "Welcome Back, Seniors" banners, their ensuing conversation in the parking lot would make much more sense too. In flashback, it’s fine.
As it stands, the ladies’ discussion of what it means to be high school seniors is slightly cringe-worthy. The Independent did a "Where Are They Now?"-style piece about the cast back in 2016. The most shocking thing about the collection of photos is that nobody looks too different to how they did in the movie. This is either down to good genes, plastic surgery, healthy living, or the fact that none of them were all that young to begin with. For clarity, the year Grease was released, the youngest cast member was John Travolta at 24. Stockard Channing was 34, Jeff Conaway was 28, and Olivia Newton-John was 30.
Dodgy sexual politics abound in Grease
Considering Grease is set in the 1950s, the film can be forgiven for being a little backwards. But watched with modern eyes, the sexual politics in particular really don’t sit too well. Whether it’s the slut-shaming of poor Rizzo (the best character overall, which we’ll get into more in-depth soon), Frenchie’s description of Cha Cha as the girl with the "worst reputation" at her high school, or the leader of rival gang The Scorpions telling Kenickie he’ll give him 75 cents for his car "including your chick," the movie isn’t shy about implying that women are beneath men.
It’s a real shame, too, because in lots of ways the movie is quite clever in how it skewers long-held teen movie stereotypes, like how super-nerd Eugene turns out to be a master athlete in disguise at the funfair at the end, or Patty Simcox’s hysterical reaction to the destroyed decorations at the dance falling on deaf ears.
Grease features a lot of innuendos
Similar to the dodgy sexual politics, virtually every second line of dialogue in Grease is an innuendo. From "what’s up, Kenick?"/"One guess" to "Bite the weenie, Riz"/"With relish," there is a lot of shameless, and not at all subtle, flirting going on. In fact, most of the banter between Rizzo and Kenickie is comprised of back-and-forth dirty talk. Her so-called boyfriend even jokes that "a hickie from Kenickie is like a Hallmark card" as though that’s somehow going to make her feel prouder of the marks on her neck.
Rizzo is, arguably, the worst culprit, particularly when it comes to ribbing other people. She asks Danny if he’s going to "flog your log" when he looks crestfallen in the car. Later, she tells the other T-Birds to scram because "what do you guys think this is, a gang bang?"
Danny forces himself on Sandy twice in Grease
The very first time we meet Danny and Sandy in Grease they’re on the beach at the end of summer. He’s being a bit rough with her, trying to kiss her against her will, and she tells him not to spoil it. He ignores her protestations and tells her it’s only making it better. Not having learned his lesson, at the drive-in, when Sandy is already upset with him, Danny first tries to sneakily cop a feel while she’s focused on the movie. When she notices, he grabs her, gets on top of her (much to her very vocal distress), and assures her that it’s okay because nobody is watching them.
Danny is well aware of what kind of lady Sandy is, yet he still thinks he can convince her to fool around in the middle of a packed, outdoor movie theater. Screaming at him to stop doesn’t work so, naturally, she resorts to violence. And we, as an audience, are supposed to feel bad for Danny as a result. Eek.
The biggest laughs in Grease come from the principal and her assistant
Grease is still really funny in general (particularly the older you get), but the little moments shared between the principal and her hapless assistant are pure gold. Whether it’s finding the schedule for last semester, instead of this year’s, or going too hard with the xylophone for morning announcements, getting caught up in the typewriter wire, or crying at the end of term, they share some of the best moments in the whole movie. And so much of their dynamic is communicated without words.
Actresses Eve Arden and Dody Goodman, who play Principal McGee and Blanche respectively, are actually two of the biggest names in the cast. Arden’s IMDb page lists 100 screen credits, while Goodman was working steadily into the early 2000s. Their easy rapport, with McGee scolding her useless assistant while clearly harboring a huge amount of warmth for her, is really lovely and it sells what are often the slowest moments in teen movies such as this (i.e. the ones featuring adults in charge).
What does this line in Grease mean anyway?
Most of us will have spent many years trying to work out what Kenickie’s line "Nobody’s jugs are bigger than Annette’s," which precedes "Summer Nights" and is part of a rather rude discussion about poor Sandy, means in Grease. That is, if it even registered in the first place. Is it a reference to bras (i.e. "her nets")? Is that even a real term for bras that people use? Is it another innuendo? Some weird ’50s slang that nobody gets half a century later?
The answer is actually much more interesting. "Annette" is Annette Joanne Funicello, a ’50s movie starlet and one of the original members of the Mickey Mouse Club. Funicello was known for her curves, having played many "Hot Chick" roles in beach/surfer movies. The reference was placed into the movie to give some authenticity to the time period in which it’s set, because Funicello would’ve been a cultural reference point at the time, particularly for lusty young men.
Grease’s Rizzo is so against the idea of "Summer Nights" she’s not part of the choreography
It’s the first big banger of Grease, but there’s one character who refuses to get caught up in the awesomeness of "Summer Nights" (aside from maybe Sonny, who is mad at Danny for bragging about his prowess with the ladies). From the outset, Rizzo is not interested in taking part in the conversations surrounding Sandy’s summer romance. She tells her there’s no such thing as a special guy, and tries to put her off even telling the story.
When the song kicks off, she sits stiffly at the opposite end of the table from everybody else, refusing to sway along with the others while Sandy trills about Danny. Then, she lays down on the bench, sunning herself, during her one line ("cause he sounds like a drag"). And finally, Rizzo purposely pushes Sandy and Patti over into a trashcan, ruining their poise and disrupting the song entirely. The idea of integrating the choreography with Rizzo’s refusal to join in is a brilliant, hilarious choice that’s totally fitting for her character.
Grease’s "Summer Nights" is kind of messed up
Rizzo might have had good reason not to take part in "Summer Nights" though. The song may be one of the most popular and beloved songs to come from Grease, but it’s also majorly problematic, particularly nowadays with everything we know about rape culture and issues of consent. One of the standout lyrics sees Kenickie asking Danny, "Did she put up a fight?" Everybody just carries on dancing and singing jovially like it’s a perfectly reasonable question.
The whole thing is engineered to show off how much Danny is lying about the dirtier elements of the summer fling, while Sandy coos about how romantic it all was, meaning the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. But lines like "Did you get very far?" and "Well she was good, you know what I mean" put the power firmly in his hands. How much say did Sandy have in these seaside activities anyway?!
Rizzo is the most sympathetic character in Grease
The older you get, the more you realize that Rizzo is actually the most sympathetic character in the whole movie. Grease‘s Frenchie is sweet and kind, but she also drops out of high school in her final year when she could probably just wait. Marty doesn’t get enough of an arc, and Sandy, as the song goes, is a bit of a sap. Rizzo is the most layered and nuanced female character, brilliantly played by a raw and committed Stockard Channing.
She’s the only one of the girls who gets a proper arc, who makes mistakes and then learns from them, has plenty of funny moments (like when she makes fun of Marty’s glasses because "you can still see your face"), and gets the best song too. Just how good Channing is in this role was made evident during Grease Live when a brilliant, but still lacking, Vanessa Hudgens struggled to bring the same level of emotional struggle and authenticity to the role.
Grease’s Kenickie pulls out a knife to fight the Scorpions, while Doody pulls out a water gun
The T-Birds’ long-running turf war with rival gang The Scorpions is hinted at throughout Grease, from the "75 cents for the whole car" comment to their leader taking Rizzo (and Marty) to the dance. A final showdown sees their sworn enemies beaten and disgraced at Thunder Road thanks to a tricky body of water.
Before that, though, there’s a moment at the pep rally that demands a closer look. On the surface, it isn’t too much of an incident. The Scorpions cruise by and the T-Birds wonder aloud if they want to "rumble." And then, it happens. Kenickie, smelling a fight in the air, whips out his trusty knife. Doody, in direct contrast to this, pulls out a little yellow water gun. It’s the same gun that’s brandished throughout the flick but its appearance here is noteworthy because, well, what did Doody think he was going to do with that? Hurt their eyes?
Rizzo comes out of the bathroom eating an ice cream cone in Grease
The Frosty Palace is the scene for many of Grease‘s biggest moments. Whether it’s Frenchie listening while her "guardian angel" sings dreamily to her about going back to high school, Rizzo throwing a shake at Kenickie, or the entire staff crowding around to watch the kids on TV at the dance, it’s the place to be.
When Danny is first confronted with Sandy and her new beau, he deals with the situation, er, pretty poorly by strolling right up to her at the jukebox and proving how much he doesn’t care by fake-laughing at accusations of jealousy. Before all that, however, Rizzo winds Danny up for staring longingly at Sandy by asking if someone is "snaking" him. Blink and you’ll miss it, but right beforehand, she strolls out of the bathroom with an ice cream cone in hand all the while licking it. Now, Rizzo isn’t someone who cares much what people think of her, but surely she could’ve asked Marty or somebody to hold her cone while she visited the ladies’ room?
The high school staff in Grease really care about their students
Grease‘s Rydell High is an aspirational school for many reasons, including but not limited to the massive carnival in the football field to celebrate graduation. At that very same carnival, there’s a pie-throwing game in service of the teachers’ retirement fund. In any other movie, this would be a gross little nod, but Rydell’s staff happen to go above and beyond for their students.
Take Coach Calhoun, who refuses to give up on Danny in spite of his lack of enthusiasm/skill in any of the sports he shows him. Then there’s the auto shop teacher, who helps the guys get Kenickie’s car in gear even when there are stolen parts involved, and then shows up at Thunder Road to cheer them on. And finally, who could forget Principal McGee and Blanche, sobbing over watching another senior class move on and leave the school? The students might be slackers, but the teachers really care.
Vince Fontaine tried to roofie Marty at the dance in Grease
Marty is one of Grease‘s most underrated characters. Most of her big moments are quiet: the way she scrunches her face when she says "uh huh" during "Summer Nights," the "dummy he’s a marine!" exchange at the slumber party, and all her other little reactions. Marty’s big moment, however, comes at the dance when she sidles up to host Vince Fontaine to flirt and hopefully make him dance with her. In spite of his bad jokes (which Marty hilariously fake-laughs at) and the fact he’s, as Sonny points out, an "older guy," it’s obvious she’s smitten with him.
It’s unclear how the night ends for the two of them until the drive-in when one, throwaway line to Rizzo lets us in on just what type of a guy Vince Fontaine turned out to be. When discussing Rizzo’s maybe-pregnancy, Marty reveals that she caught Fontaine "trying to put aspirin in my Coke at the dance." So, he tried to roofie her. And it barely even registers, either with Rizzo or the audience, because it comes and goes so fast. It’s like a non-event when it really shouldn’t be because wow.
Rizzo’s big number in Grease is ahead of its time but also pretty devastating
As previously discussed, Rizzo is the best character in Grease. She also gets the best song of the entire movie with "There Are Worse Things I Could Do." In a movie loaded with backwards sexual politics, this song is remarkably ahead of its time. On its surface, it’s a plaintive romantic ballad about how screwed up she is.
At its core, this song is about a woman who refuses to put her sexual needs aside, who is afraid to be vulnerable with a man because she’s been hurt so much in the past, and how much worse it would be to actually admit she cares than to be called the tramp of the school by the likes of Patty Simcox. It’s a powerful, fist-pumping, yet still devastatingly raw moment for the strongest female character in the movie. And, unlike Sandy, Rizzo realizes she doesn’t need to change all that much to be the best version of herself (besides maybe being a bit kinder, as when she thanks her one-time enemy for reaching out to her).
Grease’s Sandy and Danny are probably doomed
If there’s one talking point about Grease that’s gained serious traction in the 40 years since the movie’s release, it’s the infamous makeover sequence at the end. There’s an argument to be made about how Danny technically changes himself too, in order to be good enough for Sandy. But, let’s face it, she still has to change a whole lot more than he does.
On another note, the two of them fight for the entire film. The only moment they’re truly happy is at the beginning on the beach. Otherwise, they’re at each other’s throats, misunderstanding each other’s intentions, neglecting each other’s wants and needs, or just plain ignoring one another. Their romance isn’t even the most captivating. Putz and Jan have a much sweeter courtship, as do Doody and Frenchie. Even Marty and Sonny make more of an effort with each other.
Sandy and Danny are doomed. No relationship based off constant fighting, game-playing, and being forced to change one’s entire look and/or personality is going to last.