Is one of the most iconic couples of cinematic history actually toxic?

Since its release in 1978, Grease’s catchy soundtrack, memorable dialogue, flashy colors, and astounding acting have all left an important mark in not only the lives of its viewers, but on the film industry as a whole. It was a box-office hit, reaching 366.2 million USD, while simultaneously winning two People’s Choice awards in 1979. Around the world, Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) and Danny (John Travolta) have been and will continue to be one of everyone’s favorite “it-couple.” Yet, how good of a relationship do they really have?

Sandy Olsson and Danny Zuko’s summer fling was “only the beginning” of a chain of disappointments, dance-offs, and downright illusions of love. Despite thinking they’d never see each other again, both Sandy and Danny are surprised when they discover they now attend the same high school. While Sandy is more than happy to see her summer love once more, Danny’s feelings are not too clear. Wanting to keep his masculinity in check in front of the T-Birds, he lets the presence of his friends stop him from genuinely expressing his feelings of ecstasy caused by the heartfelt reunion. This is the first falling domino, setting off a long and winding ripple effect that, in the end, results in an off-putting conclusion: to get with the person you want, change yourself completely.

As Sandy rolls with the Pink Ladies, she waits patiently for Danny to make a move on her. The times he finally does, Zuko ends up prioritizing his coolness over his love for Sandy, like when he took her out to the Frosty Palace only to act all weird once he realizes his fellow T-Birds were hanging out there already. Not to mention the time he left Sandy hanging in a dance contest for his ex, or when he completely misreads Sandy’s cues at the drive-in theatre by trying to initiate sexual activity she was not in the mood for.

The legendary final musical number to “You’re The One That I Want” is definitely the most important representation of toxicity in the film. Just when Danny “manned up” and used his letterman jacket to impress Sandy (which he earned by joining the track team), she shows up wearing some snazzy leather pants, a new perm, and a Camel cigarette between her lips. In other words, she completely changed who she was to be with the guy she wanted to be. Although Danny did, technically, try the same thing by joining the sports teams to impress Sandy, the moment he saw her all greased-up he immediately threw his letterman jacket to the ground – and with it fell all the work he put into impressing her in the first place. 

Besides Sandy and Danny’s toxic relationship, the movie portrays certain topics in ways that would’ve definitely “canceled” it nowadays. Rizzo being teased about her history, Sandy being virgin-shamed by Rizzo, and the T-Birds fixing up their car just to get chicks to ride with them (and I don’t just mean in Greased Lightin’) are just a few instances where the character’s actions would nowadays result in a viral Tweet or a long petition.

Of course, society was different in 1978 – things that are offensive now may have been less so back then. Not to mention the actual movie is set in the 1950s. But, news flash!: it’s 2020, and culture has progressed and become more politically correct. If Grease was made this year, people around the world would be speaking up about the negative messages it communicates to its viewers. However, this is not the case. While we, as viewers, can watch the movie and analyze it critically through the lens of 2020’s standard political correctness, we can not simply “cancel” the film and put it on a “forbidden films” list. We have to contextualize it to educate ourselves rather than ignore the aspects that may make us uncomfortable.

Yet, although some of the elements in the movie could be considered insensitive nowadays, the theme of the film could be interpreted in a positive manner as well. Maybe the message isn’t to change yourself to get together with the person you want; maybe it is to be willing to persevere through bad times to be with the one you love, to be able to sacrifice certain aspects of yourself for another. These are all admirable traits when seen through a positive lens. And, in a way, both Sandy and Danny did these things. 

I’m not trying in any way, shape, or form to convince any of you to think a certain way of this movie. Take what you want, leave what you don’t, but it’s important to consider all the facts and perspectives to form your own educated opinion and respect others if they differ. But, whether you think Sandy and Danny are toxic or not, there’s one thing we can all agree on — the soundtrack exceeds every expectation.