‘Grease 2’ Was A Way Better Film Than ‘Grease’ And I Won’t Be Told Otherwise
Better songs, better stars and less slut-shaming. 'Grease 2' has it all.
It’s rare that a sequel outshines its original. Godfather Part II, Terminator 2, and The Empire Strikes Back are all arguably superior to their predecessors. The same, of course, can be said for Grease 2.
Before you start your bigoted, hateful comments as to why I’m wrong, I will acknowledge that the original Grease — based on an already successful Broadway musical — was a cultural touchstone. As a sentimental remembering of the birth of teenager, it has gone on to countless live remounts, repeat viewings on TV and more special edition DVDs than the Star Wars franchise. So, yeah: it’s popular.
Grease’s place in the pop cultural pantheon was further confirmed this week, when it was announced it’s next in line to be butchered by the “live TV musical” trend. (The same trend saw Marnie from Girls play Peter goddamn Pan.) Putting the meta in Metamucil, the live TV version will star High School Musical survivor Vanessa “Efron Valdez” Hudgens.
It is sure to be terrible. Yet, could it ever be as terrible-yet-incredible as the amazing Grease 2? How can it be that a low-budget sequel could possibly be better than the original?
One word (and then heaps more): ‘Reproduction’.
Grease 2 Fast 2 Furious
Horny old Grease 2 picks up at Rydell High two years after Sandy and Danny flew off into the sky in a car, defying the laws of science (and always, in my mind, signifying their welcomed deaths). The film was a critical and box office flop, despite having double the budget of the original. But thanks though to the advent of Generation VHS, Grease 2 slowly picked up a home-viewing cult following, which has escalated in the Age of the Internet.
To understand the premise of Grease 2, simply take everything you know about Grease 1 and reverse it. The filmmaker literally just made the girl the tough one, and the boy the straight-laced outsider from another country. I’ve seen Twitter bots more considerate of narrative than that.
The tough girl, Stephanie, was played by Michelle Pfieffer, she of ‘90s Catwoman fame (but back then an unknown). The nerdy boy, Michael, was played by Maxwell Caulfield, famous for tanking his career by being in this movie. (In his defense, Caulfield did later go on to play Rex Manning in Empire Records, and marry Tabitha from Passions.)
Stephanie is the leader of the Pink Ladies, and at the start of the film we learn she’s broken up with Johnny (the leader of the T-Birds). This is problematic because Pink Ladies are T-Bird “property”. They actually use that word, leaving you to wonder how they managed to film Grease 2 under Taliban rule in the first place. It’s important though, as it sets the tone for what, in comparison to the enormously problematic original, is surely one of second-wave feminism’s most stirring texts.
In comes new student Michael, the English cousin of Australian Sandy from Grease 1, because colonialism. Like Sandy, Michael is unprepared to deal with the fast pace of life as an American Teen. Naturally, uncool yet incredibly beautiful Michael falls in love with brash Stephanie. But without a motorcycle, he’s got no hope.
This deal-breaker is conveyed to him via the movie musical equivalent of Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” soliloquy, ‘Cool Rider’ — the first of many reasons why Grease 2 fucks Grease 1 out of the water.
Heroine Is So Passé: Stephanie VS Sandy
‘Cool Rider’ is Stephanie’s big “here’s where I speak my truth” moment: a Pat Benatar-esque rock out about the kind of man she wants, and how she won’t settle for less. The song is prompted by Michael asking her out after she kissed him publicly to prove to Johnny she was nobody’s “chick” (example of Stephanie as feminist icon #1).
By the time we arrive at ‘Cool Rider’, we know Stephanie/Michelle P is a Bad Bitch. She’s subtly underplayed her part in every scene or big song, including ‘Score Tonight’: a thinly-veiled sex metaphor set in a bowling alley. Basically, we’re eating out of her hand from here on in.
Takeaway lyric: “Coooool rider”. She sings it fifty million times in a variety of ways, and then goes and gets one.
Sandy’s “truth” moment, on the other hand, is ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You’, performed in a nightgown, sitting on a lawn at a sleepover. The Pink Ladies had been teasing her about being an uptight virgin without pierced ears, so she goes and pines (in song form) for Danny …who up until now had lied about banging her, and then shrugged her off in front of his buddies.
Takeaway lyric: “You know I’m just a fool who’s willing to sit around and wait for you.” Girl, respect yourself!
While ‘Hopelessly…’ was nominated for an Oscar, ‘Cool Rider’ is just cooler. It says it in the title and everything.
VERDICT: Grease 2 wins.
Pretty Boys With Feelings: Danny VS Michael
In Grease 1, ‘Sandy’ is Danny’s ballad — AKA “fast forward this bit” — in which he explores his love for the eponymous Australian. Sandy has stormed off after their disastrous drive-in date where he sexually assaulted her in the car, and she “left” him (AKA ran away because she didn’t want to get date raped. Frigid.).
Takeaway lyric: “I sit I wonder why-y-y-y-y-y. Why you left me, oh Sandy?” Um, because of the looming date rape, maybe?
In Grease 2, Michael’s ballad ‘Charades’ comes at an incredibly important moment for the character. He’s been living a double life as the (PLOT POINT) “Cool Rider”, a mysterious, kick-ass motorcyclist wowing the bobby socks off Stephanie.
Michael is feeling a little churned up about deceiving Stephanie, so sings his feelings. But Maxwell Caulfield was such a terrible singer the film lowered his vocal line to barely audible levels.
I’ll take awkward ballad by hammy actor I can’t hear over the awkward ballad by hammy actor I have to listen to, any day. Plus, Michael looks so dreamy when he pouts.
VERDICT: Grease 2 wins.
The Slut’s Lament: Rizzo VS Paulette
The Slut’s Lament is the moment in a musical/opera when the sassy female character (rarely the female lead; often her friend, but usually her enemy) has a moment to go, “I got feelings, too!”
This one is tough, because bad-girl Rizzo (played by Stockard Channing, hello) has the best slut’s lament in a modern musical with ‘There Are Worse Things I Could Do’. It’s a punchy torch song that speaks to Rizzo’s anger at being slut-shamed by the other girls at school, after being cast aside by Kenickie, when he discovers she might be pregnant with their child.
Takeaway lyric: “I don’t steal and I don’t lie, but I can feel and I can cry.” Honey, I hear you. My legs are in the air in solidarity.
Meanwhile in Grease 2, Paulette is the deputy leader of the Pink Ladies and just happened to be played by Lorna Luft, AKA JUDY GARLAND’S NON-LIZA MINELLI DAUGHTER. Now you understand my gay conundrum. Paulette’s entire oeuvre is Marilyn-Monroe-sex-kitten, chasing Johnny around.
Despite Luft’s ample voice, she doesn’t get her own dedicated slut’s lament; the true tragedy of Grease 2.
Takeaway lyric (in the finale):
Johnny: “I like what you got, I guess it’s okay if you wanna show it.”
Paulette: “I am what I am, and I’m all for you, just want you to know it.” …Femin-ish?
VERDICT: Rizzo’s got this one, sorry. Grease 1 wins.
The Big Number: ‘Beauty School Dropout’ vs ‘A Girl For All Seasons’
In Grease 1, Frenchy leaves Rydell High to attend beauty school, but then drops out after an accident turns her hair pink. ‘Beauty School Dropout’ is the fantasy sequence in which Teen Angel instructs Frenchy to finish high school. That subplot doesn’t pick up until Grease 2, in which Frenchy is essentially the conduit between the two worlds; a “hell mouth” if you will.
Takeaway lyric: “You think you’re such a looker, But no customer would go to you unless she was a hooker*! **”
The dreamy white campiness of ‘Beauty School Dropout’ is nice, but gal-anthems find their icon in Grease 2‘s ‘A Girl For All Seasons’. It’s the Pink Ladies’ entry in the talent quest, and it looks like something Frankie magazine would have used for its founding mood board.
It’s fucking incredible.
Takeaway lyric: “If you fall in the fall, you’ll see, September can be heavenly. If you fall, say you’ll fall for me.” Say ‘fall’ again, I dare you, I double dare you motherfucker, say ‘fall’ one more goddamn time.
VERDICT: One of the Grease 2 girls is dressed as a baseball mitt. Grease 2 wins.
To love Grease 2 is to celebrate it for its flaws, like a cute boyfriend who can’t do long division. Both Grease films commit the most egregious of boomer sins though: holding up the bygone “original” era of the teenager as some sort of impenetrable definition of how things were (good), compared to how things became (they all got old).
Grease 1 suffers not so much from its own sins, but rather its position in the 20th century pop cultural firmament: it is now the thing of suburban enjoyment, shitty costume parties, musical reboots starring Millsy, and megamixes played at family weddings you’d rather not be at. So to baulk at it (as I’ve guiltily done) is to say its mass appeal is in someway a marker of shittiness, whereas to argue that something genuinely shit (Grease 2) is better because it’s a camp, tacky masterpiece is to hold up “cult” as a valuable and important marker of cultural value.
When it comes to pop culture, it’s often personal — whether you’re arguing about two musicals from 30 odd years ago, or whether or not some multi-millionaire millennial has the right to win an alternative music contest. Unless we are dealing with a cultural object that has potential to cause harm (sexist, racist etc), our valuing of it — especially in relation to other objects — needs to remain playful.
So don’t get angry with me if you love Grease 1; just embrace your suburban bogan, and I’ll be over here setting up a tent in my cult movie campness, asserting my hipster superiority over you.
Nic Holas’ writing has appeared in Hello Mr Magazine, Star Observer, The Needle Prick Project and Cosmopolitan. You can find him on Twitter @nicheholas, or in his role as co-founder of HIV social umbrella The Institute of Many.