Of all the maligned sequels in all the world, I had to show Annemarie this one. We watched Grease 2. It’s another selection from the archives of young Brooke’s favorite movies. I have roughly one zillion questions for Annemarie — who’s never been more skeptical of one of my choices — but first, the basics must be established. Other than its notorious reputation, what did you know about Grease 2? What’s your initial reaction to it now that you’ve experienced it? And the question you vocalized during the movie, why did I make you watch this?
A: You are correct, I have never, ever been more skeptical. I was probably more skeptical than you were about The Hills (and now you love it and are obsessed). And let me also just say that I’ve seen Grease many, many times but it’s not what I’d call a favorite movie. It’s entertaining and there are parts and characters I like, so I’ll watch when someone else puts it on, but it’s never been a film I was clambering to watch. If that makes sense. So given my general feelings about the original movie, you can understand why I wasn’t super psyched to see the sequel. Sequels are funny things, and usually, they’re laughably bad. It’s the rare sequel that’s actually good, and I’d argue most of the time they’re good, they end up part of a series instead of just a two-parter. Think Toy Story, Indiana Jones (of which the first and third are good, second and fourth are crap), Star Wars (mixed bag as well), and one of my favorite trilogies, Back to the Future.
I generally think sequels do better when they progress the story, introduce some new characters and tell stories that are new but still familiar within a universe. For these reasons, I think Grease 2 both succeeds and fails. I think it succeeds first and most importantly with Michelle Pfieffer. She’s fun to watch as the tough-as-nails Pink Lady who’s over her T-Bird and catches the eye of the English exchange student. Their banter is heartfelt and flips the theme of the first film (good girl gets bad boy by going bad) on its ear. The musical numbers are more impressive, and you have familiar faces (Frenchie, who’s now a teacher and Crater Face, who has to be the oldest high school super senior ever) but there are some qualms. I’ll get to them once Brooke fills me in on why she loves this flick so.
Now onto why you made me watch this movie… I don’t have a great answer, but I do chalk it up to childhood nostalgia combined with a love of fierce female leads. You were gallantly singing along as I was looking at you (again, with skepticism), so I would dearly love to know what the appeal of this film is for you. GO!
B: Listen, you are partially correct in your assessment here. I absolutely watched this movie as a kid and was in deep awe of Stephanie Zanone — she didn’t command the same reverence as Madonna/Susan, as Grease 2 came into my life later than Desperately Seeking Susan, but I was pretty disappointed that no guy ever asked me out with enough persistence that I felt moved to sing a song about my dream man. Naturally, not being able to rhyme and harmonize about book smarts, witty banter and a British accent on the fly, I would have just sung “Cool Rider.” You can now testify with authority that I know all the words, and indeed, I believe you would believe me when I say I could probably approximate the choreography.
BUT, my own nostaligia for Grease 2 is secondary to why I chose to make you watch this movie now. Although it’s done in a much more campy (read: so terrible it’s wonderful) way than Desperately Seeking Susan’s unapologetic feminist lens, I believe Grease 2 raises a lot of questions and points of discussion. As you rightly assert, AM, the plot of this movie flips the conceit of the original Grease on its head. Michael is pining for Stephanie. She’s changing, but she’s not changing for anyone. Meanwhile, he’s running a homework factory to buy a motorcycle and up his cool quotient until he can knock her “right out of her bobby socks.” This is at the crux of my insistence we take this trip down the divisive path of Grease 2. Also, I really, genuinely enjoy how absolutely bizarre most of the songs are. And then there is the whole angle of Michelle Pfeiffer rising above all of the insanity in this movie to stand out as a clear star in the making. As you know, watching great performers chew scenery in material that is beneath their talents is one of my favorite things.
We’re going to have to take a much deeper look at Stephanie and the way the world reacts to her. But first, let’s get it over with, air your grievances, Annemarie. And when you’re done with that, weigh in on the fellas in this movie. Even without Michael in the picture, would you ever have any interest in Johnny Nagarelli? Also, do you like bookish Michael or biker Michael better?
A: The gist of my qualm with Grease 2 is this: I don’t get Stephanie. She ends things with Johnny because she wants more than a cute boy to make out with. Maybe she was just sick of that particular boy, but that’s what she says she was tired of anyway. She’s getting older, looking past high school, growing up. Cool. But then she tells Michael she wants a “cool” guy. Isn’t Michael already the complete opposite of Johnny and actually exactly what she says she’s looking for? Instead, he becomes the embodiment of the boy she just dumped, and she loves it. Perhaps the British accent was truly all she was looking for, in terms of mixing it up. I get that, that accent never hurt any guy’s attractiveness level.
At least in Grease, we get that Sandy and Danny are split apart for the bulk of the school year because he’s too embarrassed to be seen with her as she is: a pastel-colored square. She’s not cool enough to date the coolest guy in school until she gets a makeover. I always enjoyed that Danny gets a letter sweater the exact day Sandy squeezes into leather hot pants (who’s trying harder here?), and the whole thing is just so terribly backward from what you should look for and love in a romantic partner, but at least it makes logical sense for high school kids. Not to mention sexist. But regardless, it makes sense to me. Stephanie’s actions run counter to her words.
Also, I cannot look at Maxwell Caulfield (who plays Michael) without thinking of Rex Manning from Empire Records. IT’S REX MANNING DAY! Since he’s an unrepentant jerk in that movie, the younger version here who’s supposed to be our hero somewhat suffers in the comparison. Sorry not sorry that I saw these films in the wrong order.
The bizarre song and dance routines I feel are an acquired taste, but I am curious about your favorite, Brooke. I also have to say that I love Bookish Michael the most and would have loved to have dated him in high school just the way he was. Which brings me to my next question: What does Michael see in Stephanie? Is he swept away by her dazzle or are we supposed to glean that he sees her true nature under the splash? Are they destined for long-term happiness outside the walls of Rydell? I gotta pass on all the T-Birds. Motorcycles are so not my jam. I would like to hang out with Principal McGee and Blanche and in fact I’d watch a Grease 3 focused solely on them. Shall we add that script treatment to our list of things to do?
B: Dear Annemarie, looking for logic in Grease 2. I think, my friend, that you’ve stumbled onto the entire crux of Stephanie’s arc without realizing it. She’s completely over Johnny. And yet, she wants a cool rider. That’s certainly how Johnny fancies himself, and perhaps how Steph once saw him, but … it’s pretty clear that Johnny isn’t cool. He’s actually extraordinarily insecure. He’s wildly jealous, prone to restarting words so that he can say them in a manlier tone. He even tells Michael and Stephanie on separate occasions that he has “a rep to protect.” Johnny’s image is curated and tenuous.
What Stephanie’s really craving is confidence. A guy in possession of himself, who isn’t desperate to get with her. In her mind, at the start of the film, that guy is an idealized biker — someone straight out of Rebel Without A Cause. It’s only over time that Stephanie comes to recognize what really matters. And indeed, it’s only after Michael starts standing up for himself that she begins to consider him at all, much less find joy in the fact that he’s the mystery man on the cycle. She even sings at the recognition of this fact, “you were the one, the one in my dreams, but I never knew it.” To be sure, I would have been all about bookish Michael too, but Steph wasn’t quite ready yet.
Meanwhile, as Stephanie grapples with what she wants in a man, she’s also coming to terms with who she really is. As the leader of the Pink Ladies she’s been saddled with a prescribed identity for the whole of her high school experience. She was a T-Bird chick. She had to pledge “To look cool. To act cool. And to be cooooool.” But, as we meet Stephanie, she’s beginning to ask why she’s living her life on T-Bird terms. While everyone around her is looking for a sexual awakening (which reminds me, do you think Stephanie is so able to dismiss Johnny and fantasize about a confident man because she’s explored sexuality and found that it’s not so mysterious as “Reproduction” suggests everyone else things it is?) Stephanie is looking for herself, for life on her own terms. I know you can get behind that — and her Pink Lady jacket, even though Steph wears it less and less frequently as things progress.
Ah the songs. I have to say, for someone who is totally on board with a “Truly Scrumptious” song, I thought you would be more ready to embrace these musical gems. I do genuinely enjoy most of the songs in this movie — the T-Birds’ “Prowlin,” “Rock-a-hula-luau” and Michael’s sad “Charades” song being the exceptions. I’d probably say “Cool Rider” is my absolute favorite, it just makes you want to dance, you know? “Let’s Score Tonight” is clearly a song that should be played on the hour at EVERY bowling establishment. “Reproduction” and “Do It For Our Country” make me laugh out loud every single time I watch. Meanwhile, “(Love Will) Turn Back the Hands of Time” is camp of such a high order that it’s downright brilliant. It goes without saying that “Back to School Again” is a jam-and-a-half, but as that’s an actual song released by The Four Tops, I didn’t consider it for this analysis of the originals.
I am definitely on board for us to create a spec script for Grease 3, and to hang out with Blanche and Miss McGee, but I have a third item for our list. We have to master some of the moves from that opening “Back to School Again” dance and occasionally sing the Pink Lady pledge to one another, cool?
Have I brought you around to Stephanie at all? Whether I have or haven’t, I need you to listen to this episode of How Did This Get Made?! The wonderful June Diane Raphael has given even more thought to this matter than I have, and she tells it like it is. Meanwhile, Jason and Paul don’t know if they are more bewildered or delighted by this madness — and that’s the key to this movie. It’s so over-the-top, outlandish and bad that it’s wonderful. Just listen, mmmmkay?
If you had to, what song from this movie would you learn the lyrics and choreography for? Does anything on screen come close to your high school experience? If you were in high school in this era, would you have gone for the Marilyn look or the Jackie look?
A: I might have been skeptical, but I do love musicals. The songs were catchy and the dance moves flashy, but perhaps I was just too caught up in trying to determine if this movie was for real to really get on board with them? That being said, I did enjoy “Back to School” probably the most. I don’t know if my extreme uncoordinated-ness could actually learn dance moves, but hey, we can make that a separate series on WWT: “Learning to Dance.” I’d prefer to watch and snack and write, but we could mix it up and move, for sure.
I get what you’re saying about Stephanie, and I do appreciate that she’s trying to figure herself out. It’s not easy to do that, and it does take quite a bit of self-awareness to think through why you’re doing something you’ve always done instead of just doing it. However you look at it, she’s way more of a feminist than Sandy, and I do very much love that she’s in control of the situation. Or however much you can be in control when you’re a girl and there’s a mysterious boy you like with a face you haven’t laid eyes on.
I feel like I would have gone Jackie in high school in the 1950s. That feels appropriate based on what my parents would have let me get away with as a teenager. Also, what would the marching band kinds have worn? Those are my people. Which would you have gone with? And is dressing like a Marilyn the same as dressing like a Pink Lady? I’m all about the Pink Lady oaths, as long as we don’t need to swear allegiances to any T-Birds, that is.
Overall, Grease 2 was enjoyable but I’m honestly not clambering to watch it again. It was very unlike any high school moment I had, even if it was fun. Escapism is totally acceptable here, and it’s one good reason why we watch the things we watch. But watching Grease 2 was like watching Grease and then having a dream about it that night. The plot points are sort of there, but the actors look different and the songs are bizarre. Does that make sense? Now you understand why I kept saying “what is this movie”?
Now, to the spec script about Blanche and Miss McGee. I would love to see a treatment where you see the plots of the two movies repeated, just from their perspective. Perhaps they’re sisters? That might be funny. What do they do in their free time? What does Blanche call Principal McGee when they’re not at work? Do they have intense card game parties with their friends? Perhaps an inside joke dealing with a failed casserole? All this feels very 1950s to me. Thoughts? Additions?
B: I would most likely have gone Jackie also, I know you haven’t watched the Natalie Portman biopic, but man, she had some great looks. Actually, you know what, I most likely would have fallen in the Stephanie wearing pants on the first day of school and reluctantly throwing a skirt on over them bucket. It’s a rare occasion that I’m a dress girl, so Jackie only when I was feeling fancy. And our Pink Lady pledge will definitely not involve any T-Birds or other chaps. Just sisterhood and coolness, agreed?
I know exactly what you are saying about Grease 2 being bizarro Grease. This movie is an exercise in the absurd, and that’s why it is so much fun. Remember my struggles to accept the plot in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang? This is just like that. Only by accepting this face value lunacy can you get the full joy out of the experience.
I expect our Grease 3 creation will fall into similar territory. Let’s not give all of our secrets away here, but I like where you are headed. It will be like the Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are Dead of the Grease universe. I know I haven’t made you watch that yet, so you cannot fully appreciate the potential in what you’ve just suggested, but trust me. It’s going to be good. I think Blanche always calls Principal McGee, Miss McGee, or maybe Missus ‘M if she’s a bit tipsy. I think they undoubtedly play cribbage for money, and it gets pretty cutthroat. I think they also were early adopters of the chip and dip phenomenon and will host semi-annual medieval theme dinners where they prepare all of the food traditionally and ask their guests not to commit any anachronisms. These parties are not popular, but it is only because these ladies are ahead of the times. The modern world would smile on them for their commitment to the hobby. But, that’s enough of that, the full story will emerge in course, methinks.
In closing, I’ll say this. Grease 2 is not a movie you can watch on the regular. It’s best for viewing every few years at most. You save it up and break it out when you’re struggling. Because if Michelle Pfeiffer could still become Michelle Pfeiffer after THIS movie, you can do ANYTHING you set your mind to.
Next time, we go back to another bizarro landscape, the producer puppeteered world of The Hills.
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