When I was little, I had this strange adoration for sequels. I couldn’t get enough of them: one movie was great, two was EVEN BETTER! As I got older, I realized that Wayne’s World 2 and Halloweentown 2: Kalabar’s Revenge were not quite as good as their predecessors. But there is one film, one underrated cinematic work, whose place in my heart has only grown with time. And that is Grease 2.
When granted the opportunity, I’ve often declared I would defend this movie to my death. Most just sort of chuckle and nod; the conversation moves on to something else, and my passion simmers. But my need to defend this movie was reinvigorated recently when I stumbled across this Buzzfeed article. I’ve never agreed with an article so much in my life (the word “article” is being used loosely here). Frankly, it’s a miracle I didn’t write the thing. But Buzzfeed left out some pretty important points that I’d like to share with you.
1) Believable teenage attraction
Completely ignoring that none of the leads in this film were actually teenagers, the attraction between Stephanie Zinone and Michael Carrington is much more believable than that of the iconic Sandy & Danny. You know why? It’s the key rule in writing 101: show, don’t tell. We don’t see any of Sandy & Danny’s relationship prior to their mutual attendance at Rydell. We get one beach scene where they go “Oh woe is me, the summer’s over, I’ll never see you again” – that tells us zip about their relationship. We only learn about it through song; the uber-catchy “Summer Nights” in which Danny is clearly lying in order to look good and macho for his friends. Do we even know if Sandy’s telling the truth? What if she’s exaggerating to match the good girl image she has? It’s her first day at school and she’s sharing with strangers – wouldn’t you leave out the intimate details of your summer fling?
Anyway, when I talk about the believable relationship in Grease 2, I’m referring to when Stephanie and Michael to get to know each other for real. Upon his enrollment at Rydell, Michael’s intrigued by Stephanie but she gives him the brush-off because of his brainy status in the social hierarchy. Michael takes on a second identity to woo Stephanie by appearing like her dream guy outside of school. But the persona goes on longer than intended and it gets harder to confess. As time goes on, Stephanie starts to get to know Michael as a person and begins to second-guess her relationship with Mr. Cool Rider, unaware they are two halves of the same whole.
And for gods’ sake they flirt over grammar and Shakespeare, how could you not love them?!
2) Ladies, Ladies, Ladies
Grease probably had a more cohesive script, that I’ll grant you. But I will take the female characters of Grease 2 any day: Paulette, Rhonda, Sharon, Stephanie, Dolores, and Frenchy. They have a little more depth and ambition than those of the first movie. I think Frenchy was the only one in the first movie who actually showed any ambition outside of high school. In Grease 2 the beauty school dropout returns to Rydell to learn chemistry so she can make her own cosmetics. Sharon models herself after Jackie Kennedy and thinks Stephanie might not be up to snuff at the leader of the Pink Ladies. Dolores is Paulette’s younger sister who wants to be a Pink Lady but thinks the code sucks and needs to change. Rhonda wants to be on American Bandstand and thinks the only thing standing in her way is the shape of her nose. Paulette’s often torn between her affection for Johnny and her loyalty to Stephanie. Despite having the most promiscuous reputation of all the girls, Paulette is unashamed of her body and sexuality. By the end of the film she puts Johnny in his place after all his misogynistic bullying. And Stephanie’s fed up with “being somebody’s chick” but has trouble figuring out who she is outside of her gang. Amidst all this, the Pink Ladies continually stand by each other, never putting the social code above their own friendship.
3) Times Change – Feminist Progress!
Grease the film came out in 1978 and takes place in late 1959. Grease 2 came out in ’82 (four years later) but takes place only two years after the original (1961). Motorcycles are now the du jour symbol of cool, but the cliques known as the T-Birds and Pink Ladies remain. Part of the film’s main conflict comes from rules and traditions of Rydell’s social hierarchy: in a nut shell, Pink Ladies can’t date anyone but T-Birds. So when Michael Carrington (Maxwell Caulfield) expresses interest in Pink Ladies leader Stephanie Zinone, that’s a no-no. But when Michael reveals himself as the Cool Rider who’s been making the T-Birds look bad, we don’t get a big fight scene. There’s no definitive display of who’s the “good” and “bad” guy.
Instead, Johnny shakes Michael’s hands and welcomes him into their fold. – he makes him part of the T-Birds! This is the same Johnny who got jealous and possessive of Stephanie, whom he wasn’t even dating anymore. Johnny also apologizes to Paulette and finally treats her like an equal rather than arm candy. There’s also a whole lot less virginity-shaming in this film. Sharon isn’t ready to have sex, and T-Bird boyfriend Louis ultimately accepts when she tells him that sex doesn’t have to be the be-all, end-all to a relationship. It’s a nice change from Rizzo’s “[Sandy]’s too pure to be pink.”
4) Franchise failure but still fun
The film doesn’t take itself too seriously. Part of that is the fact it had a fifty-eight day shooting schedule and a script that wasn’t complete by the time shooting started. It absolutely has some flaws, I don’t deny that. Frenchy is just gone for the second half of the film and no one seems to notice. There’s a musical number where one T-Bird nearly tricks his girlfriend into sleeping with him through an elaborate ruse, which really toes the line of consent. And although Grease 2 decided against a scene where Stephanie and Michael fly into the sky on a motorcycle (in homage to the first film), there remains a ridiculously cheesy ballad that breaks all suspension of disbelief. It’s supposed to be about coping with loss by reflecting on the good times, which is an excellent message, but the execution makes it come off as a soapy love song with overdramatic dialogue all occurring in Stephanie’s mind. (There is a lower quality version that has the full cheesy scene here. )
The most iconic number of the film is “Cool Rider,” of course: Stephanie’s explanation to Michael that he’s nowhere near the kind of guy she’s looking for. Michelle Pfeiffer shines in this movie, but this particular scene is the one everyone remembers, and with good reason. Other memorable numbers are “Score Tonight” and “Reproduction” – the latter being the biggest fan favorite behind “Cool Rider.” You can guess that sex is a pretty common topic in the film, but “Score Tonight” is actually focused on bowling and not so much getting laid. It’s got dancing, bowling nuns, for goodness sake!
5) Cult Following
Rocky Horror Picture Show wasn’t a cinematic success, but now there’s scores of people who adore it, right? The minority of people who enjoy Grease 2 has similarly grown over the past thirty-plus years. The following is big enough that after a one-night performance under the name Cool Rider (probably for copyright reasons), it sparked a West End tour this past year. The tour was brief but it WAS a success – it sold out completely! And there’s even a Kickstarter campaign right now to get a cast recording done. The tour featured a slew of experienced performers, among them Ashleigh Gray (Elphaba in Wicked) as Stephanie and Aaron Sidwell (Eastenders) as Michael. Check out Gray singing “Cool Rider” above.
The first Grease film had great music but it pretty much sent out the message – “compromise yourself for the one you love.” Grease 2 is about learning to accepting someone for who they are, and to love yourself a bit as well.