My parents divorced when I was 11 and whilst it was probably the worst move for my relationship with my mother, it was the best for my relationship with my father. For the first 11 years of my life he’d been writing a Very Important Book because that’s what university professors did. Consequentially I didn’t see him a lot. But after the divorce he was forced to spend one whole day a week with me. When Saturday came around, he picked me up and we went shopping at the bookstore and rented a video at Blockbusters. My Dad and I returned to watch something usually highly inappropriate for my age after which we watched our usual re-run of Grease or Grease 2… and danced round the living room. That was every Saturday for four years, after which he got a Very Important Job because of the acclaim for his Very Important Book, and moved abroad.
Grease and Grease 2 got equal airplay on our Saturdays and I couldn’t understand why one was a success and the other wasn’t. I loved them both. But I had an inkling of why when my mother caught them for the first time.
Grease follows the traditional stereotype, boy Danny (John Travolta) meets hot girl Sandy (Olivia Newton-John), girl sacrifices her sense of self and her identity for guy, girl get’s guy through wearing skintight clothes and the promise of sex. Tell me about it, Stud.
Grease 2 on the other hand, has a girl Stephanie (Michelle Pfeiffer) who refuses to get off with boy Johnny (Adrian Zmed) says she’ll ‘kiss who I want when I want’ and falls for Michael (Maxwell Caulfield) who eventually turns out to not only be a ‘cool rider’ but a good student getting as she concludes, ‘two for the price of one’. The only thing Maxwell Caulfield doesn’t do, is dance… but hey after John Travolta anyone would look useless, so the producers had the good sense not to attempt a comparison.
‘Slut’ my mother said, whilst watching Michelle Pfeiffer. Well, no. My mother doesn’t use the word slut. That word along with misplaced modifiers and dangling prepositions is on the no-no list. Nevertheless she made clear in her own indomitable fashion that Stephanie was an airhead and an easy woman whilst Sandy was a class act nobody could follow. And not just because she could sing better. Because she was the good girl, ‘hopelessly devoted’ who sacrificed herself for her man.
Grease 2 was upsetting for so many people because three out of the four pink ladies had too much respect for themselves to play the helpless female stereotype and succumb to their respective T-bird match’s machinations to get them into bed. Even Lorna Luft’s character, Paulette declares in the end ‘I may not be the classiest chick you’re every gonna get, but I’m the best you’re gonna get…so take it! Or leave it!’ The strongest female in Grease – Rizzo – was punished for her choices by a pregnancy scare and being ostracized. ‘Let that be a warning to you,’ my mother (might have) said.
In the reviews of Grease versus Grease 2, I’ve seen many justifications for why one was a success and the other was a failure. Lousy acting? They both have it. Uninspired plot? Er, it’s pretty much the same plot with the genders swapped. Unconvincing dream sequence? Didn’t stop Dallas going on for another five seasons. Shit songs? What?! No one disputes the great hits of Grease, but the production and choreography of Grease 2 songs was often better than Grease… which in a musical film is often what counts for more than the melody itself (give me bolshy Michelle singing Cool Rider slightly off key, over dreary victim Olivia singing pitch perfectly in her nightie, wafting a pink piece of stationery in a paddling pool anytime).
In fact Grease 2 has fantastic songs and more polished dance sequences for many of them. From the opener Back to School Again and We’re Gonna Score Tonight, to Reproduction and Prowlin’ the songs showcase many of the cast members good vocals. Yes, in Grease 2 all the Pink Ladies and T-birds can sing instead of just the lead characters.
No, the problem with Grease 2 was that it portrayed the T-birds as dumb losers and the Pink Ladies who were too savvy to fall for their crap, versus Grease where the T-birds were also dumb losers but had incontrovertible rights to the Pink Ladies’ sexuality. The fact they were dumb losers didn’t stop them from being the most desired guys in school. In Grease 2, the T-birds get what they deserve whilst the head of the Pink Ladies strayed from convention and went for someone else who tried to change the way he was for her, instead of him trying to change who she was. And when the time comes for my kids to watch Grease 1 & 2, I’ll be sure to point out the lessons of Stephanie over those of Sandy.
(Also, massive cool factor in actress Pamela Adlon who played little Dolores, Paulette’s sister in Grease 2. She learned her feminist lessons well in this movie and went on to later play the kick-ass role of Marcy in Californication).