Some years – well, let’s be honest, most years – I just can’t be bothered with all the fuss of New Year’s Eve.
I can count on one hand the number of truly memorable and enjoyable New Year’s Eve celebrations I have experienced over the years – every one of which has been made special by being in the company of good friends, rather than by being in a cool club or at some fantastic overpriced party.
This year, faced with the choice between spending the evening in a noisy bar in Kendal, with a group of people I’ve only recently met, or at my mum’s place in front of the television with a bottle of champagne, I chose the latter.
And while we waited for the New Year to arrive, and the fireworks to begin, we watched Grease on Sky. With silly grins on our faces the entire way through.
Because let’s face it – right from the opening credits to the closing ones, it’s a sheer joy to watch. And 39 years on from its original release, its themes and characters are as relatable as ever.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve watched Grease over the years, but last night, as ever, I was struck by how, each time I watch it, my perspective on it changes – either picking up on some small plot nuance that I had previously missed, or finding myself relating differently to the various characters and subplots.
When I first saw the film, aged 6, I had a crush on John Travolta, dreamed of growing up to be as pretty as Olivia Newton-John, and simply loved the songs. Apart from the romance between Danny and Sandy, much of the subplot went right over my head – I used to sing “Look at me, I’m Sandra Dee, lousy with aginity” because that’s what it sounded like Rizzo was singing. I didn’t really understand why Rizzo was making fun of Sandy – I just thought she was mean. And I certainly didn’t get all the innuendos in “Summer Nights” – or the obvious discrepancies between Sandy’s and Danny’s versions of events, with Danny painting a story of sexual conquest for his friends’ benefit, while Sandy talks dreamily of how they held hands, and how “sweet” Danny was.
Watching it again last night, though, for the first time I found myself properly listening to the words of “Beauty School Dropout” – the one song in the movie which, for whatever reason, I had never previously liked. As a child, watching the film over and over on video, I would always fast-forward through the entire scene; I found Frankie Avalon’s over-made-up face creepy, the song downbeat and the stark whiteness of the set and costumes incredibly dull in contrast to the bright costumes and upbeat tunes of the rest of the movie.
But in the modern age of TV talent shows which encourage people to pursue unrealistic dreams of stardom, and stories of schools refusing to announce winners and losers in sports events, I found myself cheering on Avalon’s brutally honest angel, who encourages Frenchy to admit that her dream of being a beautician is fruitless.
With lines such as, “you’ve got the dream but not the drive” – and, just to really drive the point home, “no customer would go to you unless she was a hooker”, he certainly doesn’t pull any punches.
“Bravo!” I wanted to shout. The underlying message of the entire song – “You tried, you failed, move on” – is one that we all occasionally need reminding of. Frenchy’s dream of being a beautician may have come to nothing – but at least she gave it a go, realised it was not for her and is now free to think about alternatives.
But it was Rizzo who really stole my heart this time round. I’ve always loved her performance of “Look at me I’m Sandra Dee”, even when I was too young to know what she was singing about, but it’s the song “There are worse things I could do” in which we truly see her soul laid bare.
Aged 6, I thought Rizzo was mean – and a little scary. Aged 16, I thought she was a slut – still a bit mean, and still a little scary. By my mid-20s I started to warm to her, and could see how her bravado covered up insecurities, though still didn’t find her particularly relatable. But last night, for the first time, listening to her sing about how the worst thing she could do would be to cry in front of Kenickie, I found myself genuinely liking her – and wishing I’d had just a tiny bit of her “screw you” attitude when I’d been in high school.
Because the overall magic of Grease is that it so effortlessly captures the highs, lows and insecurities of teenage life – first love, first heartbreak, peer pressure, fears of being a misfit, at times ostracised, made fun of, trying on different personalities, not knowing which direction our lives are going to take, and often too afraid to just go out and grab what we want. And the joy of watching it again as an adult, years after leaving high school, is realising how lucky we are never to have to relive that particular period of our lives. Instead we can simply sit back with a wry smile as we watch Danny, Sandy, Rizzo, Kennickie and the rest of the Pink Ladies and T-Birds relive it for us, while we sing along to the truly splendiferous soundtrack.