Remembering The Classic Film: GREASE 2

No, that’s not a typo in the title, I’m not about to talk about the movie GREASE, but rather its sequel GREASE 2. Yes, I consider that film to be a classic!

Well, it’s a classic to me. I’ve alaways thought it was underrated, as I enjoy much more than the first one. I was a little kid when I first saw this film, I don’t know exactly how old, but definitely a pre-teen. Maybe 8-10, somewhere around there. It’s possible that I may have even seen this film before I saw the first film, at least before I saw it completely (I may have caught parts of it on TV at various times), but I’m not completely sure about that. I just know that while I enjoyed the first film, and in particular many of the songs from its soundtrack, this is the one that made a lasting impression on me. And this is probably the main reason:

GREASE 2, Michelle Pfeiffer, 1982, (c)Paramount/courtesy Everett Collection

That’s right, this film is where I first discovered Miss Michelle Pfeiffer. Admittedly, my tastes in women have changed quite a bit in the decades since then, and when I look at this objectively now, I can’t quite see what makes her stand out so much. But to my young self, she was amazing.

And undoubtably another part of this film’s appeal to my young self is that is basically a superhero movie! Let me explain.

First, a brief recapL the original film GREASE came out in 1978 and made a buttload of money. Even adjusted for inflation it remains the seventh most successfully live-action musical movie of all time today, over 40 years later. So of course the movie studio wanted to capitilze on that success and cranked out a sequel. Written by Ken Finkleman and directed by Patricia Birch, Grease 2 came out in 1982. Once again taking place at the fiction Rydell High School, it opens in the year 1961, two years after the events of the original film, as the new school year begins. And that includes the new group of kids who make up the motorcycle gang The T-Birds, and their affiliated female gang, the Pink Ladies. Michelle plays Stephanie Zinone, one of the Pink Ladies. We learn that during the summer she broke up with T-Bird leader Johnny, who is played by Adrian Zmed, although Johnny doesn’t take too kindly to being rejected, and still tries to claim her throughout the film. Also joining the school this year is Michael Carrington, played by Maxwell Caulfield, who just moved to town from England. He’s said to be a cousin of Olivia Newton-John’s character, Sandy, from the original film (although what has happened to her and Danny since the first film is, sadly, not mentioned). So this film basically gender-swaps the roles of Sandy and Danny in this film.

While GREASE indeed remains a classic, modern viewers have viewed the film with more scrutiny, pointing out it’s many problematic and outright sexist tropes. By comparison, GREASE 2 is pracitically a feminist manifesto.

Perhaps that’s a bit of hyperbole, but still, Stephanie makes it clear that she has no interest in getting back with Johnny, and it doesn’t matter what he or any of her friends think. Despite the societal norms of the tiem, she’s determined not to let her life be judged by her relationship (or lack thereof) with any boy. When she defiantly declares to her friends that she’s “tired of being someone’s ‘chick'” they react with horror at the thought. But Stephanie is determined to be an independent woman.

And unlike the first film, where the final act has the lead female character decide to radically alter her entire personality in order to attact the boy (whose been treating her like crap for most of the film), in this film it’s the boy who goes out of his way to change himself to become the kind of man that his dream girl says she wants.

This is where the superhero subplot comes in. Shy quiet Michael raises money (through writing book reports and term papers for other kids in school, including Johnny and the other T-Birds) to buy the parts needed to build himself a special motorcycle. And he puts on a leather jacket, a helmet, and goggles to hide his identity, and rides through town as “The Cool Rider.”

It’s in this guise that Michael pursues Stephanie, and she finds herself falling for this mysterious stranger, not knowing who he really is.

Seriously, this plot is straight out of a comic book. At one point Michael even tries to confess the truth to Stephanie by asking her if she “ever read a Superman comic?”

In the end, the truth is revealed, with Stephanie realizing that her dream man was right in front of her all along, and Johnny accepting that it was over between her and him. And thus we get our happy ending.

I’m not saying that this film is perfect. The biggest problem is that, despite being a musical, most of the songs are rather forgettable. The few standouts are Michelle Pfeiffer’s “Cool Rider,’ and then two group songs, “Reproduction” (sung by students in a sex ed class) and “Who’s That Guy“, song by witnesses to Michael’s debut as Cool Rider. But not even those songs come close to memorable tunes from the first film, like Summer Nights, Greased Lightning, You’re The One That I Want, and the title track.

I must also admit that despite both doing great jobs in their roles, Michelle and Maxwell just don’t have the type of obvious chemistry that Newton-John and Travolta did. So I can’t say that I’m surprised that this film tanked at the box office, and has mostly been forgotten, at least in comparison to the enduring legacy of Grease, although it does appear to have reached a certain cult status, so I know I’m not the only devotee. And, like it’s predecessor which began as a stage play, Grease 2 has also been adapted for the stage, which had a successful run in London just a few years ago.

So if you haven’t seen this film, and you like musicals and motorcycles, do yourself a favor and check out GREASE 2

Also: 12 Life Lessons from the Movie Grease 2


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