On June 16, 1978, “Grease” was released in movie theaters. Starring Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta, the film is one of the highest-grossing movie musicals of all time. The movie soundtrack became the second-best selling album of 1978. It included several No. 1 hit songs, including the Oscar-nominated hit, “Hopelessly Devoted to You.” Ostensibly a fun depiction of 1950s teen life, “Grease” is also an interesting exploration of the limitations of conformist culture.
Set in 1959 California, “Grease” centers around the lives of the seniors at Rydell High. After Aussie expat and goody-two-shoes Sandy Olsson (Newton-John) and Danny Zuko (Travolta) have a whirlwind summer romance, they are shocked to see each other on the first day of senior year at Rydell High. It turns out that Sandy’s sweet summer lover is actually a bad boy. He’s second in command of the greaser gang, the T-Birds. Meanwhile, the Pink Ladies, led by fast girl Rizzo (Stockard Channing), consider Sandy too “pure” to be a part of the “cool girl” group.
Throughout the film, Sandy and Danny attempt to figure out their relationship. All the while, Sandy gets ridiculed by the Pink Ladies and tries to fit in at school. At a sleepover with the Pink Ladies, Rizzo (Channing) makes fun of Sandy’s innocent nature by comparing her to a naive film actress. Although she bullies Sandy for her prudishness, Rizzo grapples with her own problems as a sexual woman in the conformist 1950s. She addresses the existing double standards in one of the film’s more powerful songs, “There Are Worse Things I Could Do.”
By the film’s conclusion, Sandy decides to free herself from the strict sexual restrictions. She embraces her inner bad girl, donning a skin-tight black outfit and sexy red pumps. Meanwhile, Danny sheds his toxic masculinity to win Sandy’s love. He trades in his leather jacket for a letterman sweater. Both characters are shocked by the other’s transformation – Danny has “chills” that are “multiplying” – and they pledge their commitment to one another in the now-classic duet, “You’re The One That I Want.” The whole cast gets in on the party and celebrates the last day of high school with the rousing final song, “We Go Together.” Forty years later, “Grease” is still the word!