Did you hear the news?!? The reunion that everyone in America, Australia, and parts of Europe was waiting for (in 1980) has finally happened! Yes, JOHN TRAVOLTA and OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN got together and recorded a Christmas album!
Everybody loved these two together in Grease, of course — at least, the girl who lived down the street from me in elementary school loved them together, enough that when we played House or Cops and Robbers or Fumbling Medical Exam she always insisted that my play-name be “John” and hers “Miss Olivia.” I should have been nicer to that girl.
Anyway, Grease was a movie musical about ’50s high-school kids from different worlds: one a beautiful, goody-goody, obviously over-30 woman from Australia, the other a juvenile delinquent a little too quick to break into song to qualify as a “juvenile delinquent.” Their romantic difficulties resolve when Danny (Travolta) decides to wear a lettered sweater and be a nerd like Sandy (Newton-John), only to find she’s decided to dress like a ’70s Lower East Side hooker (despite being a high-school kid in the ’50s), and they celebrate their perfect union by duetting on the movie’s eleventh completely anachronistic song in a row, “You’re The One That I Want.” (Though by no means the most anachronistic: “Grease Is The Word” was written and recorded by the Bee Gees [with ’50s teen idol Frankie Valli singing], and couldn’t possibly feel more out of place for a movie set in the ’50s, from the fake-strings intro forward.)
People have enormously warm memories of the “You’re The One That I Want” finale to this movie, and to some of them, this couple represented the Platonic ideal of romantic success, of love conquering all, of opposites attract, of a bad boy being tamed by a good girl. That is, until they reunited in 1983 for a truly terrible movie called Two of a Kind, whose biggest success was landing its almost-as-awful theme song, “Twist of Fate” by Ms. Newton-John, in the top ten. (That video deserves its own live-blog, by the way.)
But nearly 30 years have passed, and Travolta and Newton-John have finally reconvened for their holiday album, “This Christmas.” And guess what else? They made a video for the leadoff single, “I Think You Might Like It,” which just so happens to have been written by the author of “You’re The One That I Want,” John Farrar. With megatalents like these getting back together, how could it possibly be bad? Oh, boy, let me count the ways:
0:05 — Sleigh bells! A plane wing! An old car! And credits: Produced by JTP Films, Directed by Rav Holly and Corey Molina. Just so we know exactly who to blame, I guess.
0:10 — Travolta and Newton-John (to whom I shall henceforth refer as “ONJ” because I’m already tired of typing “Newton-John”) are dressed in all black, thumbs hooked into their beltloops, toe-tapping and hip-swivelling like they did at the end of Grease.
0:14 — ONJ looks like she’s trying a little harder than she should need to to keep up with the world’s simplest line dance. But then, she hasn’t been on camera since 1994.
0:18 — Extreme closeup of Travolta in some kind of weird setting — it looks like he’s filming himself with his phone, or maybe like it’s a hostage video, except that he’s inexplicably laughing.
0:20 — Oh, he’s flying a plane. Did you guys know that John Travolta flies planes? He also paints his hair black, and accents his hairline with a fat black magic marker, if this video can be believed. Doesn’t it seem like he needs some earrings?
0:30 — Travolta lands his plane and sings about coming home. His voice is not too bad, I guess, but I am totally distracted by the silver dollar-sized (and shaped) chin patch. It looks like he got an important phone call while he was shaving and never went back to finish. Maybe he wants to audition for Color Me Badd? Maybe he grew it out to conceal a scar? And why is it jet black? I’m 20 years younger than he is, and the only (noticeable) gray hair I have is on my chin. It’s bad enough he’s dyeing his hair a totally implausible shade — if he needs Just For Men, why not just shave it off? I don’t get it: Why does he insist on this obviously fraudulent beard?
0:38 — ONJ arrives on the tarmac in her vintage T-bird to pick Travolta up off his private jet. It’s just like my family! This thing is so relatable, it’s just bound to be a hit!
0:48 — The scourge of plastic surgery has taken another victim. ONJ was one of the great beauties of the ’70s, one of the first women to make me realize that maybe risking cooties wouldn’t be so bad, and I can honestly say I wouldn’t have known who she was if her name hadn’t been at the beginning of the video. She looks like she forgot about her severe shellfish allergy and had lobster and shrimp for lunch right before the shoot. She’s 64 years old, and I’m sure that her unaltered face would not be quite as lovely as it was in 1978, but it’s hard to imagine it wouldn’t be better than the overinflated parade float she looks like now. (Maybe that’s why she’s driving so slow, to sell the illusion.)
0:58 — I thought ONJ was on her way to pick up Travolta, but now he’s in the car with her. Whoops! Now he’s getting off the plane. This must be one of those skewed-timeline narratives, like Pulp Fiction. Is Samuel Jackson going to do a verse in a Santa Kangol?
1:18 — Did they let an intern edit this video? This part where they’re running toward each other feels like it goes on for eight minutes. Shoah went by faster.
1:29 — “I’ve got a little plan for you” is a pretty menacing lyric for a feelgood holiday song. It feels like something Jame Gumb would say to the Senator’s daughter. Wouldn’t “I’ve got a surprise for you” have been better? “I’ve got a little gift for you?”
1:39 — Travolta’s wife, Kelly Preston, arrives at the airport. (I ask again: why does he insist on this obviously fraudulent beard?) Kelly’s greeted by three young girls with presents. Are these their daughters? Are they all at the airport to pick up daddy? Do they not know ONJ just whisked him off the tarmac and “has a plan” for him? Is this thing about to take a 90-degree turn into melodrama?
1:58 — I am still having trouble with Travolta’s hair. It looks like he went completely cue-ball bald and then put five coats of black paint in its place. It’s like a swim cap with sideburns.
2:04 — Returning soldiers reunite with their families! Almost momentarily heartwarming. One question, though: Do a lot of soldiers return from war via private jet?
2:11 — Awww: one of the soldiers doesn’t have anyone to meet him. Is he looking for Travolta too? Oh wait, he just didn’t recognize his own father standing right there in front of him! War does funny things to a man.
2:22 — ONJ’s dancing is so bad — overworked is probably the word — she’s making the still-graceful Travolta look clumsy.
2:25 — Okay, when they’re both wearing black it’s not so bad, because it’s an homage to Grease and because nobody looks bad in black, but putting them both in red makes me wonder if they bounced their check to JTP Films, and this is the producers’ revenge.
2:32 — Oy, now all the extras from the airport are line dancing. None of them are any good at it, but they’re still better than ONJ, who can’t do it without watching Travolta’s feet.
2:44 — It’s cool if Travolta wants to put his wife in the video — well, ‘cool’ isn’t really the right word, but you know what I mean — but it’s weird to put her in a video where she waits for him at the airport while he stares into a former co-star’s eyes and promises to make love all night.
2:49 — ONJ’s huge, ear-to-ear smile has not left her face since this video started. I’m starting to think it’s permanent, like Jack Nicholson’s when he played the Joker. (That movie has aged even worse than ONJ, by the way.)
3:09 — And off they go in their T-bird! Wasn’t that heartwarming? Didn’t it bring back amazing memories? I for one am completely reassured that, rumors and legal claims to the contrary, John Travolta is into women — line dancing with them, watching old movies with them, coordinating his outfits with them. I still have to ask, though: why does he insist on that obviously fraudulent beard?